"If you give money, spend yourself with it." Henry David Thoreau
Children make great volunteers because they are full of enthusiasm, energy, and optimism. There are many good reasons why kids should volunteer. Studies show that people who help others are healthier and happier. When children volunteer, their self-esteem is enhanced as they learn new skills and make new friends. They see themselves as kind people capable of making a difference, and they learn to live more hopefully. They develop a stronger, richer sense of self and often have greater empathy and compassion; volunteer activities help build character and teach social responsibility.
Helping others is particularly important for teens. Those who do volunteer show less at risk behavior they are more likely to stay in school, stay out of trouble, and stay off drugs. They may develop a better appreciation of their own family too.
Volunteering also helps offset some of the materialism of our culture. It helps children of all ages see that who you are is more important than what you have. But the most important reason for volunteering is because it s the right thing to do.
The key to getting your children to volunteer is to find a cause they really identify with, whether it s helping the environment, animals or other kids. Whatever the age of your child, you will, of course, want to consider their safety and supervision very carefully. Children should never go unaccompanied door to door to collect for a cause. You will want to accompany your young children when they volunteer, and even if they are teens, you should go along too.
Your family can:
- Deliver meals at Christmas for Meals on Wheels. Regular volunteers may be out of town during the holidays and extra help may be needed.
- Sort food at a food bank.
- Help serve a Christmas meal on Christmas Day at a shelter or mission.
- Organize a Christmas dance at school or church. Ask the teens attending the dance for a donation or to bring items like toys or non-perishable food for a local charity.
- Make a pillow, quilt or stockings for a shelter or Ronald McDonald House. This is a great project for a home-ec class, youth group or 4-H club.
- Sports-minded families can help with your local Special Olympics program. Even if you can t make a long-term commitment, you can help with the Christmas party or donate new or gently-used sports equipment.
- Shop for another child and donate the gift to The Salvation Army, a shelter or a transition house. Gifts for older kids and teens are always in short supply. Here is a list of appropriate items provided by a group that works extensively with teens: backpacks, blank journals, flashlights, sleeping bags, movie passes, art supplies, gift certificates to a music store, fast food coupons, board games, an inexpensive watch, a walkman, make-up kits, hair care products, baseball caps, earrings, sewing kits, school supplies, gift certificates to a hair salon, toiletries, flannel shirts, oversized T-shirt sleepshirts, a prepaid phone card, tube socks, gloves, long johns, and playing cards.
- Donate items your family has outgrown such as a crib, bedding, baby clothes, or baby toys along with some baby food or diapers to a local shelter.
- Organize your teen and some friends to offer a Mom s Day Out so parents can have half a day to go shopping. This is a super project for your church s youth group. Help the teens plan a simple program with crafts, snacks and perhaps a Christmas video. An adult and a good first-aid kit should be on hand in case of an emergency.
- Volunteer at the pet shelter.
- Organize a toy drive for a day care center or transition house. Contact the center first to see what types of toys are needed.
- Make craft kits with the instructions and materials necessary for a holiday project. Wrap the top and bottom of a shoebox separately to put the items in, and donate the kits to the children s ward of your local hospital.
- Have a pajama party. Instead of wearing pajamas, ask kids to bring new or gently-worn pajamas to donate to a family shelter.
- Teens can organize a food drive through their school, youth group or sports team. Items such as juices, soups, pasta products, cereals, tinned fruit, canned meat and vegetables, baby food, soap, shampoo, and toothpaste are always needed.
- Make simple stockings or buy small gift bags to fill with items like candy, packages of chips, gum, mittens, toiletry items, socks, or a music tape. Donate the stockings or bags to a shelter or to street kids. This is a great youth group project.
- Bake Christmas treats for a family or organization that needs your help. Rice Krispie squares can be tied up with long thin pieces of red licorice to look like packages. Cupcakes are easy to dress up with red or green icing and a gummy bear on top. (Because so many children have allergies now, remember, not to use peanut butter, nuts or oil made from nuts.)
- Teens can set up a Christmas wrapping station in a local mall to raise money for a charity that has special meaning for them.
- Collect school supplies or books for a family shelter or a school that needs them.
- Make some decorations, placemats or table centers for a shelter or mission that serves Christmas dinner.
- Organize a big buddy tutoring program where teens help other children with reading.
- Host a craft party for families to make decorations for a nursing home.
Virginia Brucker is the author of Gifts from the Heart : 450 Simple Ways to Make Your Family's Christmas More Meaningful. Virginia's book has raised over $60,000 for cancer research and an additional $90,000 for the schools, daycares, churches, service organizations and other groups who used the book as a fundraiser. News of the project has been shared by The Simple Living Network, CBC Radio, Canadian Living magazine, Charity Village, and The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy. You can contact Virginia at 250-468-9888, via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org