I love to volunteer with my daughter Gemma. It’s something we’ve done together since she was a baby! But I’m really just continuing a family tradition. My dad was an amazing role model to me and my sister, and he’s the one who planted those seeds of service.
He led our 4-H Club for five years, providing his time to help me, my sister and other members of our community. Later, he was a ‘big buddy’ to an elementary student in need of some extra support, eating lunch with him once a week and taking him on a fun, kid-friendly excursion every couple of months.
And my dad loved talking about how great it was to volunteer. He told us great stories about it at the dinner table, inspiring my sister and I to volunteer, too. As we got older, he offered to donate a set amount of money to a charity of our choice as a part of our birthday gift every year, reminding us of the powerful gift that is giving back.
A lot of parents know how rewarding and important volunteering can be, but just don’t really know where to start when it comes to their kids. Or they think it will take a lot of extra effort. While it does take some energy and planning to get your children involved in service, you get back so much more than you give. And that’s a great thing to give to our kids.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Here are five easy ways to get young people more involved in service.
1. Bring them along!
Volunteer as a family. Our daughter Gemma started volunteering at eight months old and continued to volunteer until she started preschool. How did she do that? I strapped her to my chest in a baby carrier and she came with us as we distributed groceries for Meals on Wheels San Francisco (MOWSF)!
Did she really add value to the experience? Yes! The older people we visited and delivered meals to absolutely loved spending time with her and getting to know her. Gemma was our entertainer-in-chief and brought so much joy to our deliveries.
Did it take a little bit of work and creativity to make this happen? Yes, we had to talk to the MOWSF staff, tell them about our family needs, and work with them to find a route and timing that worked for our abilities, and our nap schedule! But in the end, it was so worth it.
2. Volunteer at home!
Using the Project Giving Kids website or YouthGive app, you can find lots of crafting projects that you can do at home, such as creating a joke book or making dog toys. Grown-ups can get into the action, too! For my thirtieth birthday, I invited friends to join me in making holiday cards for MOWSF, before we headed off to brunch together. It was SO much fun!
Brainstorm some ideas with your child—maybe as a birthday party activity they can decorate cards for a local charity, bake dog treats for a local shelter, or collect donations for a local toy or food bank for their birthday. Or if your family is looking for something to do together on a Friday night, you can find a fun project on the PGK website that you can all do together, like decorating cards.
3. Start small!
Serving others can take a lot of different forms, whatever your time commitment. Think about planning something that feels manageable for your family.
When my family first started to volunteer, we committed to twice a month. A few months later, we volunteered weekly. Can you pick one activity this month you can commit to? Or even one this year? Once you start to volunteer, you can start to plan for the next time until it slowly becomes a more regular part of your life.
4. Help your child understand what it means to volunteer!
Volunteering can be even more meaningful for your child if she or he feels empathy for those they serve, and feels empowered to continue making change! And you may enjoy knowing that all of this kindness may leave them with a helpers high.
Need some inspiration on how to motivate your kids to volunteer and talk about their experiences? For young children, there are some great picture books that can provide some early inspiration.
In The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, CJ and his grandmother volunteer at a local soup kitchen.
One Love by Cedella Marley, based on her father Bob Marley’s song, is all about a girl who inspires her community to come together and build a park for everyone.
5. Attend your local Create the Change Day!
Want to get super inspired and do some supercharged volunteering? In mid-autumn, PGK hosts an annual event for young people to volunteer in Boston, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The day is full of fun, hands-on activities for kids, teens, and families to directly support the work of local charities, and there are also raffle prizes, DJs, and more!
PGK needs volunteers of all ages to help make the event happen, and it’s never too early to sign up to help with the event. However you choose to participate, see if you and your children can join this year! [Insert Link]
If you don’t live in an area with a Create the Change Day, another idea is to help organize a Giving Kids Day at your child’s school or youth organization. It’s easier than you think! We have some great ideas and resources to help you get started.
Photo credit: Aviva Roller for Golden Gate Mother’s Group Magazine