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Selecting volunteer projects for your child

Help your kid help others

There are many opportunities for children and teenagers to do volunteer work, so how can you select which one is best for your child? Here are some things to consider in order to get the best match!

Every child is different, and how can you find a project that your child will come away with feeling good about themselves, feeling that they made a difference, and most of all -- a generous and kind member of our society?

What does your child enjoy?

Candystriper - hospital volunteer Before you open the telephone book or surf the Internet to find places that accept volunteers, first have a short discussion with your child. What type of project interests them? Would they like to work with young children or the elderly? Would they like to work indoors or outdoors? Is there an organization that they know about where they would like to volunteer?

Make a list and think of all of the options

  • If your child loves animals, they could help at an animal shelter petting the cats and dogs that are waiting for adoption. Volunteers are needed to play with and simply love the animals
  • If your child is open to working with those that are differently-abled, group homes and other centers for developmentally disabled children and adults often welcome volunteers to help out at parties, movie nights and special events.
  • If your child is interested in nature, history or art, maybe he or she would like to volunteer in a museum! Some of them have opportunities for youth volunteers to help in the gift shop or at the information desk.

Consider any of your child's special talents or hobbies

Does your child like to take photographs? Sing karaoke? Does your he or she like to learn about Greek myths or collect snow globes? This can turn out to be more important to your child's volunteer experience than you might think.

One teenager came to our eldercare center to volunteer and mentioned that he had recently taken to learning magic tricks. A friend of his was a very good singer and enjoyed singing Broadway show tunes. The two of them, without any adult "nudging" of any kind, created their own one-hour entertainment show. The residents loved the show, watching the young teen perform his magic tricks and then listening to his friend sing songs. The young singer even went out of his way to learn songs from their generation. The two friends did return to perform to a second full house audience and they also continued volunteering at the center as arts and crafts volunteers.

Making the service match to matter

While many think of volunteering as a time to simply "give back" and not think of yourself. This is the time to consider your child's feelings. What would your child simply not enjoy doing? Are hospitals a scary place? Do they not enjoy being around small children?

While facing your fears is a good thing to do, allowing your child to have control over what experience they will have will help them take control and responsibility. They are the ones that will do the volunteer work and they should have the same choices we all would like extended to us.

When speaking with youth volunteers I would always tell them "if you don't like your volunteer assignment, I will switch you," and I would explain to them that I expected them to give it three chances. If after three chances they just couldn't stand it, all they had to do was tell me. This appeared to take tremendous pressure off and it also gave them a bit of confidence because they knew they had a choice. In my two years with the eldercare facility and more than 100 youth volunteers, I only switched one youth volunteer.

A lot of organizations accept youth volunteers. Our eldercare facility welcomed them with open arms. Other places to consider are local hospitals, animal shelters, nature centers or reserves, homeless shelters, childcare centers, centers for developmentally disabled children or adults, community outreach centers, local religious organizations, senior centers, libraries, aquariums, zoos, historical landmarks, museums, state parks and recreation centers.

Are there any age restrictions?

Many places welcome youth volunteers, but most do have age restrictions. If your child is too young to volunteer independently, consider volunteering as a family. Most organizations have special projects that families do participate in. Even if you are unable to make a weekly or bi-weekly commitment, often there are special occasions or a monthly commitment is needed.

Some need volunteers with a special talent or skill, and you can create your own hours. If your family offers to create a web site for your local animal shelter, more than likely you can do most of this at home and can work at hours of your own choosing.

Different ways to volunteer

If traditional volunteering does not work for your family, you can still find ways to offer your children the volunteering experience. Organizations such as Midnight Run often ask volunteers for help preparing sandwiches or for items such as toothbrushes to hand out on their midnight runs for the homeless.

Making sandwiches as a family, or buying socks and bringing them to the Midnight Run organization together gives your children the experience of being a part of a volunteer project. Or consider having your children go through their old clothes and toys together to donate to the Salvation Army or another thrift shop in your community. Washing the clothes and cleaning the toys together to prepare them for children is a way for your children to share something that they have with the community.

Do your children like to sell lemonade in the summertime? Have them sell lemonade and donate what they make to a charity they select. Projects can be simple and small. You can buy two extra cans at the supermarket for a dollar and drop them off at a soup kitchen on the way home, or gather up your old towels and blankets and donate them to your local animal shelter.

Learn more

Get brochures or other information from the organization that your children can look at so they can learn about the organization they are helping. Another project to consider is keeping a jar of spare change that is visible and everyone donates to the jar of spare change. When the jar is full, you then decide as a family where the money should be donated. Children can have fun seeing the change accumulate and helping it "grow" in the jar.

There are many options for volunteering and soon you will find that your child is out the door saying "I'm off to volunteer....bye!"

Family volunteer resources

(*)volunteermatch.com-- this organization has an excellent database of organizations that accept volunteers. You can designate "Kids"or "Teens." I live in a suburban area and I was impressed by the number of listings. They included a number of walk-a-thons for national charities, meals on wheels delivery, food preparation for a homeless shelter, eldercare facility, volunteering at a music center, volunteering to be a friend to an exchange student and helping with a bike tour.

(*)national.unitedway.org -- The United Way has a search capability where you can put in your postal code and they will tell you about volunteer opportunities in your area. Also look for Volunteer Centers in your area and contact them. Volunteer Centers are run through the United Way and have many volunteer opportunities listed.

(*)specialolympics.org-- Special Olympics has volunteer opportunities for youth and is an international organization. Visit their site to learn about their projects and how your family can become involved.

(*)salvationarmy.org-- Check out the Salvation Army's web site to find out about their opportunities for youth volunteers in your area. You can also learn about their projects and how they use the funds raised to help many people.

(*)hsus.org -- The Humane Society of the United States. At this web site you can learn all about what the Humane Society does. You can get in touch with your local humane society and learn about volunteer opportunities (there may be a link to your local Humane Society web site, or another address you need to visit, but this is a great place to start).

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