Friday, October 3, 2008

Family Friday: Volunteer Together

It is often difficult to find time to do all the things we would like to do. Many of us would like to help others in some way, but have trouble fitting time to volunteer in. By combining quality family time with volunteering you are able to strengthen your family bond, teach your children a valuable lesson in citizenship, and help others all at the same time. Also, since you are volunteering as a group, you are going to be giving even more help than if you just volunteered on your own. Ideally, the whole family is doing the same project together, but this is also a great way to spend some one-on-one time with a family member as well. Personally, I think it is a great way to spend "date night" with my husband and it's FREE.

The first step to volunteering as a family is to decide what you will do. Get together and make a list of family interests, abilities and concerns. Brainstorm a list of activities you might be able to do that incorporate these and then get going. If you have kids who like to build forts and such, try a building project such as Habitat For Humanity. Maybe you are animal lovers, check into volunteering opportunities at the zoo or Humane Society. Do you worry about those who don't have enough to eat? Start a food drive or volunteer at a food cupboard or homeless shelter. For more ideas check out Volunteer Match, which also includes opportunities for families with younger children and PBS' Zoom into Action Family Guide to Volunteering.

Some things to consider when choosing a volunteer opportunity are the amount of time available, the frequency of the project (there are ongoing and one-time opportunities available), and the attitude of the staff toward working with children. If you are new to volunteering or you are not sure how a certain opportunity will go over, try a one day project. If you are committed to something and know it will work for your family, choose an ongoing project. Most places are going to grateful for any help you provide, but some may be concerned about safety issues or even the behavior of children and may not allow children under a certain age. Those who do allow children, may not always be friendly towards them so be sure to check that out before hand. Call places you are considering volunteering and get a feel for what is available for you to do and for their attitude and rules regarding children. Be sure everyone is in agreement before committing to something and then go ahead and do it. Once the commitment is made, be sure to follow through as the "receiving" group are now depending on you.

So whether you are helping to build houses, stock food pantry shelves, cleaning a local beach, or caring for animals; the important thing is that you are helping others and, at the same time, improving your own lives, both individually and as a family.

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