Recently my husband, my newly adult stepdaughter and I spent some time volunteering with disaster response activities for a large wildfire in our community. Although most of the time we did not volunteer on the same projects or at the same time it was a cool experience to volunteer on the same event. Watching her choose to volunteer was a great reinforcement for all those times we helped volunteer her growing up!
Before becoming “mostly” a stay at home mom I spent a decade in the non-profit industry and one of the many hats I wore over the years was that of Volunteer Coordinator. I love the non-profit industry and I have been able to work with several of the leading charities including Shriners Childrens Hospitals, The American Red Cross and the YMCA. I grew up regularly volunteering through church and school projects. My husband and I share this passion – we actually met while working for the Red Cross! Although we both no longer work there, we are still volunteers and refer to it is a family affair.
As a mom and a former Volunteer Coordinator I want my kids to volunteer as they grow up and thought I would share 'why'... You might call them reasons, lessons learned or even benefits but ultimately for me they are why I encourage my kids to volunteer.
Exposure and Connection: Charities or non-profits provide an excellent opportunity to exposure children to new experiences, people and opinions. Volunteering can provide connections to friends, mentors, the community and causes that may inspire your children now and even shape future careers. Even in smaller areas there are a variety of places to volunteer from recognized non-profits to schools or faith based initiatives.
Skills: Non-profits are often more willing to provide training to volunteers because quite frankly – they need the help! Volunteering provides a fabulous opportunity for children to learn a variety of skills from how to care for an animal, office and clerical, public speaking, photography, fundraising or interviewing. There are also organizational specific skills such a disaster response, emotional first aid, childcare or teaching that volunteers can acquire through non-profit training programs that are often free. One of my best volunteers over the years started at age 14 helping answer phones during a large national disaster, after four years and a variety of other assignments; he became the person who interviewed, placed and orienting new volunteers to the organization. Due to his experience and organizational knowledge most people had no idea he was a teenager!
Problem Solving: Just as non-profits will introduce children to different experiences and people; volunteering will also require children to learn to be flexible and develop creativity. Both of which are essential parts of problem solving. Charities often have limited workforces, supplies and other resources. This requires staff (paid and volunteer) to find ways to adapt and meet needs in non-traditional ways. The adage “Necessity is the mother of invention” is almost always true in the non-profit world.
Gratitude and Social Responsibility: Every year, as Thanksgiving approached, I would receive calls from parents wanting to know if we had family volunteer opportunities available. They wanted to teach their children about gratitude. Volunteering allows children to see others needs and recognize inequalities and inadequacies in the world. It can also motivate children to become more educated about the world or a specific problem, their own beliefs or how their actions can be a positive contribution to society.
Commitment: I want my children to serve because they believe in something and want to do – not just because there is a monetary benefit attached. Exposure to others who are already living this example is much more powerful than a lecture from me! Generally speaking there is no amount of money you could pay someone that would match the dedication of a volunteer that is committed to an organization or cause. Most people would be truly amazed at the amount of time and energy dedicated volunteers contribute to causes simply because it is their passion. In my years of experience I can tell you of countless times that the first person I saw in the morning (even on a really early morning) was a volunteer and the last person I talked to at night was a volunteer. I don’t say this to encourage my child (or yours) to devote their lives to non-paying volunteer service but rather because that dedication, commitment and passion that leads volunteers to contribute their time and talents is an example I want my children to see!
Need some ideas on how to get your kids involved? Check out your local Volunteer Center or ask at your church or child’s school.
Have little kids who aren't quite old enough to volunteer? Think of doing Random Acts of Kindness to plants the seeds as they grow older!