Volunteer Opportunities for Your Teen
Finding a cause that appeals to every member of the family, locating an organization that welcomes kids and preparing children for the challenges of volunteering takes thoughtful consideration and legwork. This chapter provides the practical tools your family will need to begin its quest.
Get the Family Involved
First, you'll want to find an opportunity that suits all of your schedules, ages, skills and personalities. Each family member will have his or her own ideas. Encourage all of your would-be volunteers to get involved in selecting the volunteer opportunity. The more each individual feels he or she has helped make the choice, the more committed everyone will be to making it work.
Consider these questions when beginning your search:
What skills, personality traits and talents does your family have to offer?
Is your family active and physically fit? Maybe that could point to park service work or an outdoor environmental project. Is your daughter skilled at working with children? This may suggest volunteering at a crisis nursery or mentoring a young boy or girl. Also consider your family's personalities. If your preschooler is outgoing and affectionate, she'd probably enjoy spending time at a nursing home. A shy child might be happier with a more behind-the-scenes job.
What do you want your family to learn from the experience?
Most families volunteer because they want to teach the values of service and community involvement to their children. But what else would you like your children to gain? Do you want them to learn tolerance of those who come from different races or cultures? Then you might want to host a foreign student. Perhaps you'd like them to understand that not everyone has the material advantages you have. Then consider work in a homeless shelter. Think about the impact you'd like the volunteer work to have on your family members as you go about narrowing your search.
How much time are you able to commit?
It's usually best to start small. A one-time commitment is a good way to begin; it allows your family to sample different types of volunteer activities without promising to be there for the long haul. Try a walk for charity, or cook a Thanksgiving dinner at a soup kitchen. Each chapter of this book includes a variety of simple and inexpensive volunteering options. Then take on something more regular if your family enjoyed the experience and has more time to give. But don't over commit. It's much easier and more comfortable to increase your volunteer time rather than having to cut back because you've taken on too much.
What causes or issues are important to your family?
This means thinking about what matters to you. Are you focused on political issues or are you more social service-minded? Would you prefer to work with older adults or young children? Each chapter of this book focuses on a particular area of interest. Think about which topics your family feels most strongly about, and find a volunteer job that reflects those passions.
What are the ages of your children?
Find a volunteer opportunity that's appropriate to your children's ages and maturity levels. Some activities might be too difficult for younger kids because they require a long attention span, higher-level skills or emotional maturity. If you're uncertain about whether your child can handle a particular job, visit the agency and speak with the volunteer coordinator. But remember, families can design volunteer participation for any age child. Even babies and toddlers can take part in charity walks, meal deliveries or visits to a nursing home.
What times and locations are most convenient for your family?
Are your children early risers or late sleepers? Does your daughter need an afternoon nap? Does your son count on going out with friends on Friday evenings? Are you too exhausted after a typical workday to tackle another commitment? Think about these patterns and preferences when choosing a volunteer activity. Also, pick a location that's convenient for you. You don't want the chore of getting there to interfere with your enthusiasm.
Do you want to volunteer with other families?
One Sunday a month for many years, three families met at a local homeless shelter to cook and serve dinner. The children enjoyed spending time with one another, and volunteering provided the adults with a regular time each month to talk while they prepared the food. Some people feel that volunteering with other families enriches their experience. Others prefer to have the time alone with their immediate family. Discuss which option you prefer.
Kids, especially younger ones, may need your help articulating their ideas and opinions as you discuss family volunteering. Ask them questions and listen carefully to what they have to say. If your child seems overwhelmed by all the discussion, you may need to talk with your child alone to draw out more honest responses. Explain each of the issues in words your child can understand. Again, it's important to gather every family member's cooperation and enthusiasm as you begin to narrow down the possibilities.