“Family volunteering” might conjure up the image of mom or dad wrangling the kids to be somewhere at a specific time. In fact, family volunteering can take many forms.
For example, growing and donating vegetables to a food pantry, together, is a family volunteer project. So, too, is doing yard work or running errands for a homebound neighbor, or helping an older adult navigate computers and smartphones. What about raising a service dog who will help a visually impaired individual, or training your dog to be a therapy dog that visits nursing homes? Also a good family volunteer project.
United Ways offer a variety of family volunteer projects, like Heart of Florida United Way’s annual Thanksgiving Project. It’s a community-wide food drive to provide a full holiday meal to those in need. Teams – including families – work together to fill tote bags with donated Thanksgiving food items, decorate greeting cards, and fill resource packets to help families connect with local organizations for year-round assistance.
Volunteering as a family has many benefits. It provides opportunities to connect and talk in new ways, as parents and kids learn to see each other outside of their typical roles. Working as a team reinforces lessons learned in sports about the importance of doing your part to achieve a greater goal. Importantly, volunteering stimulates empathy, as kids come to see and experience the needs of others firsthand.
Volunteering helps children learn about responsibility to others and having a stake in their community. It can help kids find a “superpower” they didn’t know they had. Just by showing up – for example, to play cards with seniors at a nursing home – allows children to see how they can boost spirits and brighten days. Tangible evidence that they are making a difference helps build children’s self-esteem and develop leadership skills.
A University of British Columbia study found that toddlers are happier when they give treats to others, particularly if those treats were theirs to begin with, rather than receive treats themselves. So, it is never too early to help kids develop a life-long habit of giving back.
Family Volunteer Day falls annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. It is a day of service and a good day to start volunteering as a family. You can make any day a family volunteer day by thinking about what your kids already enjoy doing and go from there. Your local United Way is a good place to start for ideas and can connect you to projects that will work for the entire family.