Finding service opportunities for kids can be surprisingly difficult! Many of the opportunities you remember from your childhood are no longer an option.
For instance, did any of you shelve books at the library when you were kids? I know my sister did! When I spoke with my local library, they said they can only accept volunteers who are 18 or older. No kids, not even with a parent!
I also had several friends who volunteered at a local hospital as “candy stripers” – but the hospitals near me today will not accept help from anyone under 18.
I suspect it’s not just me who’s had trouble finding some good service opportunities! Here are some ideas and ways to serve that you might not have thought of.
Set up a drive
My criteria for “service” is that my kids do something where they can see a meaningful difference. Dropping off a check written against my bank account doesn’t count. Neither does giving things they don’t want to Goodwill (though I’m a big supporter of that! – it just isn’t in the “service” category to me).
One way you can get around the “your kids are too young” obstacle is to set up a drive, to gather supplies needed by a non-profit organization from the community, and then take them down with your kids for donation.
Once you set up your drive, post it on Facebook and email friends and family with the details. If you are a member in groups or activities who will let you announce your drive, make up flyers and pass them around.
Here are some ideas:
- Canned food drive – to benefit your local food bank
- Baby item drive – for a local teen mother support organization, or a family shelter
- Pet supplies drive – local animal shelter or rescue organization
- Kids clothing, or coat / glove / boot drive – in winter, for a local family shelter
- Hygiene item drive – local homeless shelter
- School supplies drive – local low income school
Local homeless and family shelters may also like board games – call them first to make sure they are interested. Family shelters may also appreciate toys.
Step in and help
Maybe a drive isn’t your thing. Would you prefer an opportunity to make a difference a bit more directly? Here are some ways:
Clean up a park
Luckily this doesn’t take permission or even much planning – just grab your family (and friends if you like) – and head over to a local park. Bring along sunscreen, gloves and trash bags and pick up any trash lying around.
Create a service event
This brilliant idea was done at a local homeschool co-op. The kids in the group chose a fundraising idea and an organization to support. The plan for fundraising was an art auction, and members of the group spent several weeks working on art projects that they could sell at the auction. A silent auction was set up that day, and the group raised several hundred dollars for their charity of choice.
Serve food at a soup kitchen
Local organizations that provides free meals to those who need them often allow families to come as a group and serve meals to their diners.
Grant wishes from an angel tree
Many organizations set up angel trees near Christmas, where children can put their holiday wish on a card. You select some of the wishes from the tree and purchase and wrap the gifts for the child. The gifts do go back to the organization, who will then give the present to the wisher.
Volunteer at a local nursing home
Sometimes residents have no local family, and do not have any visitors at all. Contact them to see what their residents might most appreciate. It can be fun to spend time talking with or playing games with a resident. We also once were asked to bring teddy bears to some of their elderly residents near the holidays.
The whole family can help out if you care for foster pets in your home. The most common need is for kittens born during summer – they cannot be adopted out until they are old enough to be “fixed”. Kittens who come in younger than that are placed in foster homes temporarily. Your guests could include moms with kittens, tiny kittens who need bottle feeding every few hours, or older kittens just a little shy of the age range who need someone to play with them and a couple of meals a day.
If you deliver for the local Meals on Wheels, your kids can come along. The basic responsibility is to pick up meals on days you are signed up, and deliver them to the home of the recipients. You would generally spend a few minutes making sure they are OK, but you don’t hang out long enough to eat or anything. Find your local organization through http://www.mealsonwheelsamerica.org/
Service options for older kids
Older kids can do some “traditional” volunteer work – here are some in my area that allow volunteers who are older (generally 10+ with a parent, and on their own starting at between 14 and 16):
Help out at the pet shelter
The local Humane Society will work with volunteers 10 and up with a parent, though any work with dogs requires being 18. 16 year olds can help out with adoption events, administrative work, and small animals on their own with parental permission.
Coach athletes for Special Olympics Events
Special Olympics holds events at least once per year in many communities, so you can likely find one near you. They generally involve coaching athletes to get ready for the event, or helping with the event on the day of. Locally kids 10 to 13 can volunteer with a parent, and those 14 and older can come help out on their own.
Man the desk at non-profit walks or runs
Many non profits, such as the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Alzheimer’s Association, have fundraising walk or run events. They need volunteers to check in registrants and to pass out water during the event.
Help out at a non-profit event
Many non-profits have events and accept teen helpers. For instance, one local organization holds monthly respite events for the families of special needs children – the kids can be dropped off for an evening of fun while the parents take a break or get dinner or errands done. They use teen volunteers to play with the children during the event. Others may be happy to have teens man check in desks or silent auctions during fundraising events.
Pack bags at the food bank
The local distribution center here will allow volunteers 10 and up with a parent, 16 and up on their own, to help sort, pack and distribute food to community members.
Provide child care at a church
If you belong to a religious organization, many of them provide childcare during their services. Volunteers 16 and up are generally welcome, after a background check.
You may be able to find volunteer opportunities in your area through one of these organizations as well – they are clearinghouse sites, where non-profits can post volunteer opportunities:
Do you have any ideas to share on ways for kids to help others? What have you tried?