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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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