Six-year-old Emerson has a special envelope that she uses to save money. But she doesn’t use the money to buy toys or candy for herself: She uses it to purchase items for the food pantry where she volunteers with her mom, Kelly Eident. The last time Emerson saved up $10, she used it to buy 10 one-dollar can openers for the food pantry.
“She is starting to understand that people do not always have even one dollar to buy basic supplies that they need to be able to eat,” says Eident, who has been volunteering with her daughter for about a year. “We wanted her to understand that all the opportunities she has had – even basics, like having enough food to eat — is not something that all people experience.”
Volunteering as a family is a great way to help others while teaching children to count their blessings. But the benefits go far beyond that. It teaches kids community responsibility, work ethic and develops their sense of compassion for others. Volunteering as a family also creates an opportunity to bond and make memories together.
“Volunteering takes teamwork, and it can teach a family critical problem-solving skills and how to work together as a team,” says Basil Sadiq, senior marketing manager at VolunteerMatch.org, an organization that helps people find volunteer opportunities in their communities, including Cincinnati.
You’re never too young to give back to your community, which is why volunteering with kids is a great idea. Here are some helpful ways for doing just that.
Find something age-appropriate.
Consider your child’s age and attention span. Is volunteering at an all-day outdoor festival doable, or will a half-hour of grocery sorting at the food pantry be best? As you search for volunteer opportunities, you might find that some organizations won’t accept very young volunteers. Don’t let that deter you! Instead, create your own community service ideas. You don’t have to be a certain age to collect money for charity, clean up the litter around a park or along a river, plant trees and flowers to beautify your community, or deliver hand-drawn cards to the elderly.
Find something fun. Volunteering should be fun, not a chore. Let your child’s interests guide you as you seek out opportunities.
“Communicate and actively listen to your child’s interests,” Sadiq says. “That way, you’ll continue to learn how to identify opportunities that are good for them.”
Animals lovers might enjoy brushing cats at an animal shelter. Art lovers might like helping decorate an arts center for their upcoming gala. Little gardeners might enjoy growing fresh produce for families in need. Crafty kids might like creating blankets for hospital patients. There is a volunteering opportunity for every interest and personality.
Find something that fits your family.
Volunteering doesn’t need to take up the whole day, nor do you need to commit to volunteering each week. Find a service project that works for your family. You might even need to try a couple of different organizations before you find the right one.
“If the first volunteer opportunity doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to try a new organization until you find the perfect fit,” Sadiq says.
The bottom line is: Volunteering benefits everyone involved, and gives children and their families the chance to change lives — including their own.
Help Your Community
If you’re looking to volunteer with your child, check out these family-friendly organizations around Cincinnati that accept young volunteers.
Keep Cincinnati Beautiful
Children of every age and their adults are welcome to volunteer with Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, which works to clean up litter from neighborhoods, transform vacant lots into pocket parks and plant trees.
Ronald McDonald House of Greater Cincinnati
Families with young children can help put together care packages and craft packs, while high schoolers can apply for the VolunTEEN Program and help families in the House on a weekly basis.
Freestore Food Bank
Children ages 5 and up can volunteer with the food bank’s Giving Fields, helping to plant, harvest and provide fresh food to community partners in Northern Kentucky.
HEARTT Animal Refuge
Children and their adults can help with almost every aspect of day-to-day operations, including cleaning cages and rooms, dog walking and fundraising.
Matthew 25: Ministries
Families are needed to sort, count and package goods that will be shipped worldwide. Children under 16 are welcome and must be accompanied by an adult at all times under the following guidelines: 1 adult/child under 8; 1 adult/2 children 9-11; 1 adult/3 kids 11-16.
Bake Me Home
People of all ages can volunteer to fill jars of homemade cookie mix, crochet potholders and collect items for the tote bags that are delivered to families in crisis and military members.