In this “me”-centric age, putting an emphasis on giving to others has never been more crucial. I am often guilty of putting too much emphasis on myself or on my kids, and then my girls also put too much emphasis on themselves. So the summertime is a great way to get off that track. These months provide the perfect opportunity for kids to use their available downtime to support important causes or to help others in need.
How Much, How Little
The volunteer time can be as little or substantial as your child would like, depending on their (and your) availability and willingness. They can even just volunteer for two hours a week to start, and perhaps they’ll find they enjoy what they’re doing and want to increase the amount of time they spend volunteering.
In addition to the amount of volunteer hours, you can help your child figure out where they want to volunteer and what they want to do, while also considering your child’s age and capabilities. They can choose to work limited hours at different places over the summer months or perhaps devote all their volunteer time to one organization or cause.
There are tons of different ways to give back, but here are a few ideas to get your child started:
Local animal shelter: There are usually a variety of tasks that need to get done at animal shelters, such as walking dogs, socializing with the cats and cleaning animal enclosures.
Community clean-up project: There may be some organized events in your area, such as a clean up of a nearby beach, riverbank or garden. But if there isn’t one already, how about helping organize an event with your child? Perhaps one that cleans up the local school or neighborhood.
Local library reading: See if your child would like to read to younger children during storytime. There are also usually opportunities for providing general library help, as well as possibly helping kids with summer school homework.
Nursing or retirement home visits: I remember as a child visiting nursing homes during the holidays with my local youth group and how much these visits meant to the residents. They were truly happy to see young people and interact and chat with them. This also is a wonderful experience for young people as they gain better understanding, patience and empathy for older adults.
Help serve at a soup kitchen: Kids can help serve and assist with preparation and clean up. Helping at a soup kitchen is something that brings it all home for kids, as they interact with those less fortunate than themselves and also tangibly see how their efforts make a difference.
Summer camp counselors: Teenagers can apply to help at summer camps with younger kids. The application process often has to be done in the spring or earlier, so scope out which camps your teen would like to volunteer at and what types of volunteer opportunities are available.
Special Olympics: Older kids can volunteer at the Special Olympics, becoming coaches, scorekeepers, event organizers and meal servers.
Create-your-own: If there isn’t a formal volunteer program, you and your child can inquire into a particular organization and see if they would be interested in taking a young volunteer. In addition, your child can also create their own volunteer project and perhaps rally others to join their effort. For example, an older child may see a need for community garden. With your help, they can ask for volunteers and donations to get this ambitious but highly rewarding project started.
All your children’s efforts are needed and will be appreciated, and in turn, volunteering helps instill compassion and empathy in them. It’s also a great chance for your kids to meet others with similar interests and perspectives, as well as open their worlds to different situations and people with varying backgrounds — something invaluable as they grow up and then hopefully become adult volunteers.
Here are some websites to learn about other summertime volunteer opportunities:
Kids Korps USA: www.kidskorps.org/
Do Something: www.dosomething.org
Action without Borders: www.idealist.org/