Figure out your goal. Why do you want your family to volunteer? Is it to help a cause? Is it to spend some nice time together? Is it to make your children “better people”? Is it because you feel like you should? All of these are perfectly good reasons. However, the best way to get the most out of your experience is to take a moment before to figure out what you’re hoping to get out of the experience.
Check and see if everyone in the family is on board. Yes, you’re into this. After all, you’ve logged on to this website. But what about the rest of the family? The idea of volunteering may actually have started with one of your kids, or your spouse. However, if you’re the engine behind this, and you’re getting some resistance, the best way to win your family over is to try and make sure there is some part of the experience that will be meaningful or, even better, fun, for those who are reluctant to participate.
Make sure there is something fun and entertaining for everyone. Finding something that everyone in the family enjoys can be a challenge, especially if there’s a wide age range between your kids. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. If you’re concerned, call or email the volunteer coordinator beforehand, tell them the ages of your kids and ask if this activity is a good one for your entire family. One thing to remember: Older kids – whether they are 7 or 17– like to feel they’re being entrusted a bit more than their younger siblings. And younger kids love to prove that they can keep up. Feel free to let your kids show you how much they can do.
Know when to compromise. If your family is divided on what they’d like to do, or what they’re passionate about, try and compromise. One child may care only about animals, while the other wants to help seniors. Maybe there’s a retirement home nearby that would love a visit from some kids with their pets. (Their friendly, housebroken pets.) Or, your child wants to cook, while you want to paint. See if there’s a local group home that may need a fence painted, but whose residents would love some home-baked cookies, too. And don’t forget: Your goal is to do something nice for someone else. If everyone doesn’t get his or her way this time, it’s a great excuse to help again!
Consider inviting along other families. Many families like to volunteer with other families. That’s a great idea. Many hands make light work and many hands are also able to get lots accomplished. Not only that, it can be even more fun for everyone involved – adults as well as kids – to be working with friends. When choosing families to volunteer with, it’s often helpful, though not imperative, to work with families with similar-aged kids; that way, it’s easier to find an activity that’s suitable for everyone.
Respect different points of view. Volunteering is a great time for families – no matter how many ages or generations are represented – to work together for a common goal. Therefore, if there is some disagreement in your family about a political or social issue, don’t foist your opinions on someone else. Actually, there’s a very easy way to avoid conflict: choose something else!
If you’re helping people, respect them, and remember that you’re there to help. Kids can help all kinds of people in need: homeless people, seniors, low-income kids, at risk youth. It can be a wonderful experience for everyone to work together for a common cause. Please remember though, that even the disadvantaged are, first and foremost, people. Many of them are perfectly intelligent, and full of thoughts and feelings of their own. They are fighting whatever difficult situation they’re in. You are there to make their lives easier. They are probably appreciative of your help, whether or not they can express it. But they are not there to teach your child a life lesson.
Consider alternative ways to help out and give back. Without question, it can be wonderful for families to work together to help the homeless or protect the environment. And there are all kinds of excellent nonprofit agencies, some well known, some less so, that would love your family’s help. But families can make equally important contributions by reaching out to a lonely neighbor, baking cookies for a grieving family, hosting a yard sale for charity, or fostering or adopting an animal from a rescue organization. The key is to find the thing that speaks to your family and makes them feel good about their contribution.
Have fun! Volunteering is an incredible way for a family to spend time together. It’s the best of both worlds: you’re together and you’re doing something nice for someone else. That’s pretty amazing. As such, you’ve earned the right to have a good time doing it. So find something you enjoy, not just as individuals, but also as a family. Have a good time! That way, you’ll think of family volunteering less like an obligation, and more like a fun activity.
Don’t forget: Even Santa Claus takes off his red pants. Volunteering as a family can be a great thing, and many families can’t get enough. Some families, however, can. Sometimes someone – could be the parents, could be the kids – need a bit of a break from volunteering. And guess what? That’s okay. No family is going to solve all the problems of the world. Besides, sometimes a well-timed break is just what a family needs to recharge their batteries and come back ready to help more than ever!
[Thanksgiving Stuffing Event] “Our Thanksgiving wouldn’t be the same without you guys. It warms my heart and replenishes my faith to witness such kindness in action.”
- -A.Z., Los Angeles
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