Twelve Volunteer Opportunities for Kids

DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

I was recently on Fox 5 with Annie Yu, talking about a few of the things mentioned in this post. You can check out the short segment here.

The Benefits of Volunteering and Helping Others

There is something so beautiful and powerful about giving love and aid to a stranger without expecting anything in return. You’ll probably never meet this person, and there will be no thank you card in the mail. That’s what I love about charity, and I believe I owe this love for giving to my parents.

I was very fortunate to have parents who modeled generosity and the importance of giving, especially to those in need. Now as a mother, I want to do the same. And I want to start when my children are very young. Research shows that children who see their parents volunteer are much more likely to value helping others.

Of course charity work is benefiting the community and those in need, but the giver is indirectly receiving some gifts of his or her own. Here are a few benefits:

  • Research shows that people who volunteer are happier, have higher self-esteem, and have better psychological well-being.
  • Children learn empathy and compassion.
  • It helps kids focus on others for a while. Due to the way the human brain develops, children at a young age are inherently egocentric. Therefore, introducing the concept of doing for others early on can make learning thoughtfulness and selflessness easier as they mature.
  • It can be a fun and new activity.
  • It can be a great bonding opportunity for the family. Great conversations and questions can develop after the experience as well.
  • It forces socialization and strengthens social skills due to the inevitable interactions with other volunteers and people in the community.
  • It provides real-life and hands-on experiences that will assist them professionally.
  • Kids can learn new skills (What am I good at? What do I enjoy?)
  • It provides a sense of purpose.

At What Age Can a Child Start Volunteer/Charity Work?
 
Kids can be any age when they start observing you volunteer. Like I mentioned at the beginning, you modeling a genuine like for volunteering and helping others will be noted by your child. In terms of actually doing the work, I think that age two to two-and-a-half is appropriate (this is based on my opinion only). However, it depends on your child. He or she needs to know how to understand and follow basic instructions. A clothing drive or food drive, for example, would be a great place to start.
As a matter of fact, there will be a clothing drive in DC taking place December 5th to the 7th. You can visit Gifts for the Homeless for more information.
Seven Things to Consider Before Choosing a Volunteer Opportunity
 
Compassionatekids.com offers great advice about things to consider prior to volunteering with your child. Here are seven:
  • Your child’s interests
  • Your interests (If you’re bored or stressed, it won’t be fun)
  • Your child’s abilities
  • Your abilities (For example, if you have a back injury, activities involving you to pick up heavy equipment or constantly bending over wouldn’t be a good idea, which could ruin the experience)
  • Location (How far is the site from your house?)
  • Duration (How much time are you expected to be on site?)
  • Frequency (Is this a one time event, or are you expected to volunteer every week?)
Sit down together and look through the list of opportunities to see what would be fun for the both of you.
Charity Opportunities for Toddlers
You can keep it real simple at this age. Here’s a list of ideas:
  • Pick up litter from the park or neighborhood
  • Ask a(n) (elderly) neighbor if you can pick up his or her leaves
  • Give some TLC to an elderly family member by visiting him or her. You can help put his or her shoes on, sing him or her a song, make him or her a card, play games, or just talk
  • Foster a pet from an animal shelter and help care for him or her.

Volunteer and Charity Opportunities for Preschoolers
  • Meals on Wheels: This organization packages and delivers food to senior citizens. But check with your local agency because they work independently, which means it may not allow children to volunteer. If they do, your preschooler can help package the food.
  • Maddie’s Blankets:  You can make a simple blanket and donate it to a foster care child or an animal at an animal shelter. All you need is a bit of fleece fabric, scissors, and 20 minutes of your time. Her website provides you with instructions.
  • Earth Sangha: This non-profit works towards ecological restoration. You can volunteer by planting flowers or trees in one of their nurseries.
  • AnySoldier.com: My family recently took part in this. We put a care pacakage together for a military unit. The cool thing about this organization is that it allows you to choose to whom you want to send the package to. You can pick from a roster. It provides you with a name and which branch of the military this soldier is in. My boys and I chose a female in the Army stationed in Kuwait. We went grocery shopping, and the boys loved picking out the snacks. They also loved packing it and writing their cards for her. It was a lot of fun!
Putting together a care package for an Any Soldier in Kuwait


Charity and Volunteer Opportunities for Elementary and Middle Schoolers

  • Gifts for the Homeless: This is a non-profit serving the homeless through its annual clothing drive and soliciting funds to purchase clothing for the homeless. Their clothing drive this year will take place December 5-7 2014. Children are welcome, and you can stay for as little or as long as you’d like. You’ll be sorting and bagging clothes. As previously mentioned, I think little ones could do well with this clothing drive as well.
  • City Dogs Rescue DC: This non-profit serves as a foster home for dogs. You can foster a pup or dog. Their site also offers cute ideas kids can do to help their dogs.
  • DC Central Kitchen (for kids 12+): You’ll literally be chopping food for the homeless in the DCCK kitchen. Volunteers can also glean, which means you pick fresh produce from local farms.
  • Capital Area Food Bank (for kids 12+): CAFB feeds the hungry through its food acquisition and distribution. Volunteers can package food, garden, weed, and harvest. There are two locations- DC and Lorton, VA.
  • Kids Care Clubs: This Club is for the little entrepreneur looking to start a club with friends with the sole purpose of doing good. Kids who are five to thirteen years old can register for free. To maintain their membership, the club must complete two projects a year and complete a survey.

Volunteer Opportunities for High Schoolers
  • Food and Friends: This organization helps adults and children with HIV/AIDS, cancer, or other life-challenging illness by preparing and delivering specialized meals to them. Volunteers can prepare and package the food or assist in the delivery process.
  • Best Buddies High Schools: Best Buddies HS pairs high school students with students with intellectual disabilities. This is a school-based program. If your child’s school doesn’t have this opportunity, he or she can request to start one. The students get together for events and activities that high school students enjoy. Unlike a mentor-type relationship where one person learns from the other, Best Buddies is a “big brother and big sister” concept; each mutually benefiting from the relationship.
  • I’m Alive (18+): This is an online crisis network that allows volunteers to communicate with people in crisis (i.e., attempting suicide) through instant messages. All the volunteer needs is a computer with Internet access. It requires training and certification.

Resources to Find Volunteer Opportunities
 
Here are a few ways to find non-profits and charities in your area:

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