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Community Service: A Family's Guide to Getting Involved

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It's easy to feel disconnected, as many parents juggle work, school, kids, and activity after activity. But some simple things can bring a family closer — playing a game, going for a hike, or cooking a meal together.

One of the most satisfying, fun, and productive ways to unite is volunteering for community service projects. Volunteerism also sets a good example for your kids and helps the community.

Reasons to Get Involved

Why should your family lend a helping hand?

  • It feels good. The satisfaction and pride that come from helping others are important reasons to volunteer. When you commit your time and effort to an organization or a cause you feel strongly about, the feeling of fulfillment can be endless.
  • It strengthens your community. Organizations and agencies that use volunteers are providing important services at low or no cost to those who need them. When a community is doing well as a whole, its individuals are better off, too.
  • It can strengthen your family. Volunteerism is a great way for families to have fun and feel closer. But many people say they don't have the time to volunteer after fulfilling work and family commitments. If that's the case, try rethinking some of your free time as a family. You could select just one or two projects a year and make them a family tradition (for example, making and donating gift baskets to care facilities for the elderly around the holidays).

What Kids Can Learn From Volunteering

If volunteering begins at an early age, it can become part of kids' lives — something they might just expect and want to do.

It can teach them:

  • A sense of responsibility. By volunteering, kids and teens learn what it means to make and keep a commitment. They learn how to be on time for a job, do their best, and be proud of the results. But they also learn that, ultimately, we're all responsible for the well-being of our communities.
  • That one person can make a difference. A wonderful, empowering message for kids is that they're important enough to have an impact on someone or something else.
  • The benefit of sacrifice. By giving up a toy to a less fortunate child, a child learns that sometimes it's good to sacrifice. Cutting back on recreation time to help clean up a beach tells kids that there are important things besides ourselves and our immediate needs.
  • Tolerance. Working in community service can bring kids and teens in touch with people of different backgrounds, abilities, ethnicities, ages, and education and income levels. They'll learn that even the most diverse individuals can be united by common values.
  • Job skills. Community service can help young people decide on their future careers. Are they interested in the medical field? Hospitals and clinics often have teenage volunteer programs. Do they love politics? Kids can work on the real campaigns of local political candidates. Learning to work as a team member, taking on leadership roles, setting project goals — these are all skills that can be gained by volunteering and will serve kids well in any future career.
  • How to fill idle time wisely. If kids aren't involved in traditional after-school activities, community service can be a wonderful alternative.

Volunteering on Your Own

If you've never been involved in community service before, volunteering as an individual may be a good place to start. Want to improve your computer knowledge? You may get free on-the-job training. Have you been out of the workforce raising children? Volunteering may be a painless way for you to get back into the routine of working before taking the plunge into a paid position.

And if you're looking for a career change, community service is a networker's dream. You can meet people who may offer opportunities you've never thought of. You can sample different workplaces and see how you like various fields. Your volunteering will definitely help others and may help you, too.

Getting Your Family Involved

The Internet offers lots of sites with information about volunteer opportunities. You can also call a favorite charity, hospital, or church directly to see if they have any needs, or look up "Volunteerism" in the phone book in the Human Services section (often in the blue pages).

Or contact a local volunteer clearinghouse, which matches up volunteers and community organizations and can help you find openings at nonprofit organizations in your area.

Be prepared to answer questions such as:

  • What are your interests?
  • What are your skills?
  • Do you have any special needs?
  • Do you have a method of transportation?
  • How many hours a week do you have to volunteer?
  • Why do you want to volunteer?

You'll probably be interviewed again once the clearinghouse matches you with an appropriate job. Some situations require more information. If you want to work with kids, for instance, you may have to undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check.

Be sure to be just as thorough when you question the organizations. Find out exactly what's expected of you before you accept the volunteer position. Be realistic and ask specific questions.

When looking for a volunteer position, remember that it may be difficult to find the perfect volunteer slot. Be flexible, and keep looking if the agency you were referred to doesn't meet your needs. It may take a while to find a perfect fit, but once you do, it will be worth it.

Once you do become involved, be responsible to those who depend on you. Be on time, dress appropriately, and let the volunteer coordinator know if you can't make it.

Good Volunteer Jobs for Families and Kids

Families can do many volunteer jobs. Even the smallest child (with adult supervision) can pick up garbage at the park, playground, or beach. You don't even have to be part of a big effort to do this. Get your family together, find some garbage bags, and head out.

Or become involved in repair and renovation efforts for low-income residents. Younger kids might not be able to do the big jobs, but helping out by fetching a paintbrush or holding the nails involves them just the same.

Work at a community food bank or soup kitchen as a family. Find an organization that serves the elderly. Take food to people who are homebound and visit with them. Your kids can brighten a lonely senior's day instantly. Offer your family's help at the local animal shelter. Help plant flowers or trees. The possibilities are endless.

Whatever you choose to do, volunteering and community service can benefit both the community and your family. Get involved today!

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2013

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses and treatment, consult your doctor.

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