This holiday season, you can cut the ambivalence from your older child’s life by leading them to volunteering. It’s a real eye-opener!
We all like receiving gifts. Even older kids, who may no longer have a multi-page wish list featuring the newest Power Ranger or Groovy Girl, love being pampered. Unfortunately, not everyone in our community is so fortunate as to have everything they need this holiday season. So as the gift-giving season approaches, help your kids experience the joy of giving.
Even Busy Families Can Volunteer
Jenny Friedman, author of The Busy Family’s Guide to Family Volunteering (Gryphon House), began volunteering with her kids when her oldest child was only 3, delivering meals to the homebound. “The thing I never expected,” she remembers, “was how much having the kids along would enhance the experience for the people we were helping. These homebound people were just so delighted to have a moment to chat.”
Friedman says many families tell her they would like to volunteer, but hesitate to cram one more thing into their overflowing schedules. “I tell them that it can be very simple and woven into your life, built around things you’re already doing,” she says. One of Friedman’s favorite starter projects is “Make a Child Smile” (makeachildsmile.org), where kids can send cards to children with life-threatening illnesses. It’s a project that can be done anytime and fits into a normal family routine. “Most of our children do art projects anyway, so why not make the project be a card?” she says.
Another activity that fits into normal routines is buying food for homeless shelters. “You take kids grocery shopping with you, and let them pick out one thing each week for a food bank. It’s a chance to talk about nutrition – what people need. When you get home you drop it in a bag, and when the bag is full you take the kids with you to deliver the food to the shelter.”
Friedman is enthusiastic about the almost unimaginable benefits that come to families who volunteer together. “For many years, we cooked at a homeless shelter, and that had a powerful impact on the kids. They don’t have the stereotypes common to kids who haven’t had these opportunities. They’re completely comfortable with a wide range of people. They learned that homeless people, who may seem different at first, are just people with own stories, their own families, often their own jobs.”
Family bonding is another benefit. “When I interviewed families for the book, bonding was something they almost universally mentioned. They said volunteering sparks important conversations with the kids. It can be an oasis of time for families, a time when they can be together doing something useful.”
Depending on the project you choose, there’s plenty of hands-on, real world learning that kids get from volunteering. Friedman says it’s a great way to educate children. For example, if you’re helping with an environmental project, you can also read books about the environmental science and social issues involved. Kids learn that science and politics can have a powerful impact on the quality of people’s lives.
Building a Sense of Connectedness
When kids volunteer, it helps them understand how connected they are to other people, even strangers. Friedman says that it’s important not to let kids get the idea that they’re superior to the people they are helping. She says it’s good to make them aware that they also benefit from the volunteer work of others.
“When you go to a library or national park, you can point out that volunteer help and charitable giving makes those things possible.” Friedman has also found that when kids spend time with the people they’re helping, they learn that those same people are strong in other ways. “Kids learn that part of our role in the world is to help people out, just like they would help us out. They get a sense of the common good.”
Karen Cole, Ph.D., publishes the weekly family fun newsletter Big Learning News at biglearning.com/newsletter.htm. She is the co-author of Increasing Student Learning Through Multimedia Projects (Association for Supervision & Curriculum Deve, 2002).
WHERE TO HELP WITH TWEENS AND TEENS
Clover Bottom Developmental Center
275 Stewarts Ferry Pike, Nashville
This center for mentally disabled individuals welcomes teen volunteers ages 14 and older to visit with the residents. Teen groups can also come to the center and throw parties for residents.
Earth Matters, Tennessee
252-6953 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Help protect and preserve these beautiful parks by volunteering as a family. Opportunities include feeding the birds, picking up litter on the trails and in the river, and cleaning the nature center. Volunteers ages 13 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.
Love at First Sight
4423 Murphy Road, Nashville
297-2464 or lafspetadoption.com
This rescue organization finds loving homes for healthy puppies and kittens. Volunteers age 13 and older are needed to feed and play with the animals awaiting adoption. Children younger than 13 can also participate by helping to socialize (play with) the animals, provided they are accompanied by an adult.
209 10th Ave. S.,
Ste. 160, Nashville
259-4866 or nashvillecares.org
Your family can make a difference in the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS by delivering meals on Christmas morning. There is no age requirement as long as children are accompanied by an adult.
Nashville Humane Society
213 Oceola Ave., Nashville
352-1010 or nashvillehumane.org
This animal rescue organization needs volunteers to help with dog walking, animal socialization and other special projects. All ages are welcome, but volunteers younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Nashville Rescue Mission
639 Lafayette St., Nashville
255-2475 or nashvillerescuemission.org
Ages 12 and older can help alleviate the suffering of the underprivileged and the homeless by serving meals, sorting canned goods and nonperishable items, and organizing food and clothing drives. Younger children who are accompanied by an adult can help serve meals during the holidays.
The Nashville Zoo at Grassmere
3777 Nolensville Road, Nashville
833-1534 or nashvillezoo.org
Preteens ages 12 – 14 can join the Zoo Crew, which gives kids the opportunity to participate in special volunteer projects at the Zoo. Zoo Crew projects include special events, enrichment projects or helping to clean-up/set-up event projects.
1549 Old Hillsboro Road, Franklin
794-1150 or saddleupnashville.org
Saddle Up is a program designed to help build confidence and strength in disabled individuals through the use of equine therapy. Junior volunteers ages 12 – 18 can help out by being stable hands and doing barn chores during lesson times. All volunteers younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Second Harvest Food Bank
331 Great Circle Road, Nashville
329-3491 or secondharvestnashville.org
Volunteers are needed to assist with office duties, food drives and other special events. Kids in the sixth grade and older are welcome, provided they are accompanied by an adult.
Hands on Nashville
298-1108 ext. 107 or hon.org
Find out about other volunteer opportunities for youth through the Hands on Nashville annual guide (available online), or call for volunteer referrals throughout the community.