Give and Learn

Getting your kids to volunteer in their community will not only keep them busy and active, but  can also result in an educational and rewarding experience. Through volunteering kids learn important life skills such as responsibility, caring, independence and organization. Kids are also able to see how others live and may realize how good they have it, which can result in kids learning to appreciate what they have and also understand how important it is to help others.
To get kids interested in volunteering, it is important to find out what they enjoy doing. Getting kids to utilize their skills and talents can contribute to a positive volunteering experience for everyone involved. There are many volunteer opportunities where kids can utilize their skills to benefit others, such as singing, acting, caring for pets, visiting seniors and participating as Wii challengers, and teaching computer skills.
Kids become very interested in volunteering opportunities when they realize that volunteering is more than just cleaning up parks or participating in food drives. Most kids think that these are the only type of volunteer opportunities available, specifically for their age group. But when kids are made aware of other types of opportunities, their excitement and interest in volunteering increases. According to the Institute for Volunteering Research, “Young people who do volunteer have a wider appreciation of its scope and potential, and are less likely to label volunteers according to traditional  stereotypes.”
Appealing to older kids can be a challenge, however, showing them that volunteer experience can be used as prior job experience always seems to get their attention. Most high school students have made some sort of decision as to what they want to be when they graduate. To them, any type of volunteer experience that is directly related to any future career endeavours can be used to further their success. Think about this:
It is most common for young college graduates to have the required education for a job, but lack job experience for their resumés — this where volunteer experience can be of value to them. When students realize that volunteering can benefit them career-wise, their interest in volunteering increases. As parents, it’s important to realize that volunteering doesn’t mean taking your kids to a dangerous or seedy part of town to work at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Suitable and age appropriate volunteer opportunities exist for all ages and personal interests. Getting children involved in  volunteering is an exceptional way to make them aware of the world around them. There are some ideas to help get your children interested and involved:

Friendly visitors
Many senior centres and retirement homes are in constant need of friendly visitors for their clients. Seniors can often be lonely due to a lack of family or friends nearby. Kids are often welcomed to senior centres to bring enthusiasm and excitement to their clients. Kids can brighten up someone’s day just by talking with them, taking a walk or reading to them. Some seniors can no longer read and need someone to read important documentation or letters to them, or just
want to hear poems or stories from their favourite books.

Creating care packets
Creating care packets for homeless shelters are easy for kids to do either by themselves or with friends. Care packets contain toiletries such as shampoo, soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, or they can contain snacks such as granola bars,
crackers or juice boxes. Before creating the care packets, however, it is best to contact the homeless shelter you want to donate to and ask the director what is needed. It is important to only donate items that the homeless shelters need and can use. In addition to this activity, a donation drive can be done either inside or outside. Another option is to raise funds for donation items with a car wash or bake sale. Adding a contest to see who can raise the most money, wash the most cars or bring in the most donation items can challenge the kids and make the opportunity fun and exciting!
This type of activity is also a good option for specialneeds children to participate in. Kids can sit and fill bags as they talk and get to know each other.

Caring for pets
Local humane societies and animal shelters are in need of volunteers due to the influx of pets being put up for adoption.
Kids can help by feeding, walking and playing with the pets. The whole family can also pa
rticipate in this activity, which can result in families being able to spend more quality time with each other. Kids can also participate in donation drives for  animal shelters by collecting pet food and supplies.

Outdoor cleanup
Contact your local Parks and Recreation department to see if they need help on local trail or park cleanup. Kids can help create trails, plant flowers and maintain park facilities. Kids can feel rewarded by the fact that they helped provide a safe and clean environment where other kids can play and have fun, and there’s the added benefit of being active outdoors as a volunteer.

Outdoor events
Kids can volunteer at local sporting events, such as walk-a-thons or outdoor events sponsored by the local YMCA.  Summer brings a whole host of outdoor activities that are in need of volunteers. Kids can help participants sign in, direct them to where they need go to, sell concessions, or distribute products.

Entertainment
Kids who sing, dance or act can perform at local senior centres for retirement homes. These organizations welcome  performers of all ages to entertain their clients. If this is a career your child wants to pursue, this is a great opportunity to acquire experience and exposure.

Volunteer centres
Check to see if your community has a volunteer centre. Most YMCAs and local recreational organizations have volunteer opportunities. Churches and local fire stations are also a good place to check, as well as your local United Way office, which specializes in youth volunteering activities.

Remember, getting your kids — and if possible, the entire family — to help others by volunteering can be fun and educational.

Kim Goff is a professional speaker and author who currently works as a communications director for the United Way of York. As a freelance writer, Kim wrote the book Female Empowerment – A Personal Journey to share her insights on overcoming obstacles and the challenges of raising an autistic child. She also works on the volunteer blog of the York Daily Record volunteer blog and is the Philadelphia Special Needs Kids Examiner for Examiner.com.

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