Over the years, our family has benefited from volunteering in our local community. Without a doubt, it has brought our family together, encouraged our kids to think about giving back, and has increased their compassion for others.
Volunteer opportunities for kids and family are plentiful. I am happy to share some of the ways we have served our community over the years, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. Think of it more as a springboard for you to begin considering what might work for your crew.
Family Volunteer Opportunities
While these opportunities have worked for our family over the years, they might not be the best fit for your family. Think about your local area and your own kids to determine what will work best for your crew.
1. Senior Center Visits.
When my oldest two children were 4 and 2 years old, I coordinated monthly visits to a local Senior Center. This monthly visit continued for six years until our move to North Carolina. Other homeschooling families joined us over the years, but many times we were on our own.
At this particular senior center, I worked with an activity coordinator to plan events for my kids to enjoy alongside the Seniors. About 50% of the time we all played Bingo together. My kids loved winning prizes, as did the Seniors! During our time there we also enjoyed various visitors to the community center, including a drummer and a singer who led us in dancing and song with the Seniors.
We also celebrated holidays with the seniors. We conducted Halloween parades there for the seniors, made Christmas cards, and had Easter Egg hunts while they watched the kids. David (now 9) even had a first birthday party at the Senior Center!
The Seniors enjoyed visitors and new faces to look forward to each month. My children learned to feel comfortable around people who were very different than themselves. It took some time and some conversation for them to feel comfortable, but creating a fun environment for them alongside the seniors was key.
2. Make Blankets for Project Linus
Before you skip this one, you do not need to know how to sew to make a blanket! Our family tied no-sew fleece knotted blankets and donated them to this organization. The instructions were available on the Project Linus website, so we were confident they accepted this type of blanket.
Project Linus is a charity that provides blankets for children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need. Individuals or groups can drop off blankets at one of the many locations around the US. There appear to be drop-off locations in every US State.
Make a Blanket Day (MABD) is hosted by local chapter heads in each State. Contact a local coordinator if you want to be involved in MABD near you.
3. Serve your Local Food Pantry
You can search the Feed America site to find a local Food Bank.
One way to serve is to help supply the food bank through your food donations. Most Food Banks have a list of food items they will accept, including a list of current high need items. Give them a call and then take the kids shopping. Once you have confirmed the drop-off hours, considering taking the kids with you to drop off the items.
Once you have found a local food bank, check their website for other volunteer opportunities. Our local Raleigh, NC branch has a Kids Day twice a month for groups of children to participate in age-appropriate food sorting projects. These have to be scheduled in advance, often several months in advance, so be sure to plan ahead!
4. Volunteer at the local Rescue Mission
The overall goal of many local rescue missions is typically to address the problems associated with poverty, homelessness, and addiction. These missions hold a place near and dear to the heart of our family.
When living in Maryland, we offered support to the Helping Up Rescue Mission in downtown Baltimore. As soon as we moved to Raleigh, NC we looked up a rescue mission in the area and discovered the Raleigh Rescue Mission located in the downtown area.
There is not one large umbrella organization for these various missions, but if you use google wisely, you will find that most large cities have one. I suggest googling “[your city name] rescue mission” and check out what comes up.
The Rescue Mission in Raleigh has numerous ways for families and groups of families to be involved. The lunches to go program is a fantastic way for a group of families to serve together. Your group makes 40 sack lunches (following the listed guidelines) and delivers them to the mission. The lunches will be given to overnight guests when they leave the shelter in the morning so that they will have a healthy lunch available to them that day.
We have also participated in the Gobbles to Go program and delivered Thanksgiving meals to those in need. A family is able to easily participate in food delivery together.
Finally, we provided birthday gifts quarterly for the monthly birthday celebrations at the mission. Our family, and the families who joined us, received a birthday list at the beginning of one of our hosted months. We purchase gifts for the names on the list and delivered them downtown during the dinner hour along with balloons.
5. Sponsor a Child
There are plenty of other organizations to select from including ones that are not religiously affiliated, such as Save the Children, I mention Compassion and World Vision because we have children sponsored through these organizations so I am most familiar with them.
Sponsorship is a great way to involve your kids in the bigger picture of a community and giving of themselves especially if other opportunities outside of the house aren’t great options due to the challenges presented by your situation or schedule.
In order to establish a meaningful connection right from the start, we selected sponsored children who shared the same birthday (including year) with each of my children. This has been a great way to remember ages and birthdays for our sponsored children and each of my children feels connected to one special child somewhere else in the world.
We write letters and emails, send cards, and we occasionally send small gifts. Admittedly, some time periods are more consistent than others. World Vision makes this very easy as they send ready to go sticker books, cards and calendars for sponsors to send a few times a year and all you have to do is write a note. Compassion includes a form each time you receive a letter from your child and we try to keep that form out until we write back. I also find it very helpful to keep international forever stamps in the house. I purchase a sheet of them and keep them handy so we can immediately mail our letters when we write.
6. Serve Your Local Church
This one has all sorts of options, usually readily available. In fact, sometimes the options are so readily available that you have to be more prepared to say NO than to say YES. Only you know that balance.
We have done many things with our church, but many of them are individual opportunities to serve, such as teaching or working in the nursery. I wanted something for our family to do together, so I made a phone call to the children’s director and asked if we could help cut out the preschool materials.
Turns out they were thrilled to have help offered for this task.
So every other Wednesday, the kids and I head to church for an hour and we chat, listen to music, eat chocolate, and cut out preschool materials. Everyone isn’t always eager, but we always have fun when we go. Sometimes is the perfect “just being together” that we need WHILE fulfilling someone else’s need. It has been a great fit for us.
There are many opportunities to show your children that needs beyond their own exist everywhere. While we have volunteered and served our community from very early ages in their lives, it has become particularly useful to direct the immense energy of the teens in the house. And it is never too late to start.
Think out of the box. Think about what will work for your family. Ask. Offer. Google. Pay attention. You might be surprised what will come to mind.
How about you? What valuable opportunities for service have worked for your family?
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