As I was growing up, my parents were always looking for ways to help support our neighbors and community. Whether it was cleaning up yards for people in our neighborhood or helping pick fruit at the local orchards, my parents signed us up to help. While I complained about this a great deal at the time, looking back on it helps me understand more about my parents and our family values. It also helps me understand how important it is for each of us to get involved in our communities. Even a small act of generosity can make a difference!
The benefits of volunteering for the community are pretty clear: volunteering strengthens community relationships, expands services to those who need them, and maximizes the impact of our resources. But did you know that volunteering also benefits the volunteer? And when families volunteer together, the benefits are even greater! Here are just a few of the benefits you can experience as you volunteer together (identified by Purdue University Indianapolis):
- Bringing your family together
- Strengthening your value system as your children see you get involved
- Building extended family among youth participants and adults
- Experiencing self-satisfaction and fulfillment
- Getting more done together as a team than is possible individually
- Giving children experiences that can help them build skills for future jobs and schooling
- Helping children and families recognize their own privileges and blessings
- Having a positive influence on the people they work with
- Having fun together!
Other benefits that come from volunteering together include helping children learn self-confidence and gain new skills, increasing family communication and support, and meeting people from a variety of different backgrounds and experience (Volunteer Center of Burlington County). Volunteering together can even help your children build empathy and counter pessimism (PsychCentral)!
All of these benefits demonstrate that volunteering together as a family is a good thing—but where do you start? When you have young children, the idea of taking them to a volunteer project can be very daunting. How long will it last? What will you do if the kids get tired (or hungry)? Will the project site be kid-safe and kid-friendly? The good news is, volunteering together doesn't have to be intimidating. Just keep these three "S"s in mind: safety first, short and sweet, and significant service.
First, remember safety first. You might be really excited about helping renovate or build a new home for a local family, but a build site may not be the best place to take your kids. Instead, you could think about organizing a game night at a local senior center. As you start looking for volunteer opportunities, remember to pay attention to safety issues. If you have questions about whether or not a volunteer opportunity is appropriate for children, don't hesitate to contact the program or volunteer coordinator with your questions!
Second, keep your volunteer commitments short and sweet. Kids have limited attention spans, and signing up for a full day volunteer project may not be the best way to get them excited about giving back. Your family's volunteer experience will be better for everyone involved if the project is tailored to your children's engagement level. Instead of doing one big project, consider doing several shorter projects over time.
Third, remember to focus on significant service. Sometimes it's tempting to plan projects based on the kinds of service that we want to do, instead of reaching out to the volunteer agency or the person we want to help to see what the most urgent needs are. To make sure your service has the most impact, it's important to ask before committing to a particular project.
By following these three simple guidelines, you will help make sure that your family volunteer experience is enjoyable, impactful, and memorable. Ready to get started making a difference together? Visit uwayuc.org/familyvolunteering or call 2-1-1 for some family-friendly volunteer project recommendations.