by Camille Moore
Deliver a nutritious meal to someone who’s ill. Collect food or clothing for struggling families. Organize a toy drive for needy children.
Volunteering during the holidays – the season for giving rather than receiving – is a good time for parents to teach their children the values of responsibility, empathy and caring for others.
But volunteering doesn’t have to happen just during the festive season; it can happen anywhere and anytime, a few hours a week or once every few months.
Families who volunteer say that their effort is more than just helping the community – it is a shared family bond. When children see their parents giving their time to help in the community, they want to follow their example.
“I enjoy volunteering with my family because there is a closeness that comes with it and I wanted that shared experience with my family,” Kelly Palakshappa of College Park, mother of two, says. Palakshappa remembers one project where she and her son Nikhil, 7, served food to needy families at Thanksgiving. “I was helping serve food to the clients and my son went and passed out cards to the people, and it put smiles on their faces,” she says.
If you and your family are unsure of how or where you want to volunteer, organizations such Pebble Tossers, Hands On Atlanta and United Way can connect you with volunteer opportunities. Another idea is to discuss news and current events over family meals. Hearing everyone’s thoughts and opinions can help to find an organization that everyone will be proud to contribute to.
“We have been volunteering since 2009 because we wanted to do something as a family to encourage giving back to our community,” Karen Dominico of Dunwoody says. She and her two teenagers, Will, 18, and Katie, 16, are involved with the food drive at Dunwoody Methodist Church. The Dominicos participate in food stocking with Friends of United Methodist Church and help serve meals to the homeless.
Finding a cause to support in your own neighborhood is not difficult. Jenny Friedman, founder and executive director of Doing Good Together and a national expert on family volunteerism, says that some neighborhoods and organizations host a Family Service Night that can feature an assortment of opportunities. Simple, hands-on service projects for families range from making sandwiches for local homeless shelters to writing letters.
“Our neighborhood chooses a charity to donate to each year. We have the event in someone’s garage with games and food and the kids really love it,” says Ericka Van Hoosear, Decatur mom of three.
She and her husband, Reed, also have started to support a new Atlanta based nonprofit, Helping Mamas, an organization that aids struggling moms. The couple asked for donations of diapers in lieu of gifts when they held a birthday party for their son Colin, 3.
“Honestly, my child never even missed the gifts,” Van Hoosear says. “All he wanted was cake and time with his friends.”
Volunteers raise awareness and donations for an organization, but they get so much in return. When your children begin to volunteer, they learn values that can follow them to adulthood.
Palakshappa’s son has Type 1 diabetes and they participated in Spin for Kids to raise money for Camp Kudzu for kids with diabetes.
“We biked in the event last year and Nikhil biked five miles and I biked 62. It was a little challenging for him, but he finished and was thrilled that he made a huge accomplishment,” Palakshappa says.
Reflecting with your children after volunteering is a great way to share what you learned and enjoyed. One way is to create a helping hand poster – outline your hand or your child’s hand and on each finger have your child write something about the experience; hang it on the refrigerator. Another idea is to keep a photo album or scrapbook about your family volunteer projects.
Sharing with each other will create lasting memories and values.
Opportunities to volunteer as a family are everywhere. Here are just a few of the organizations that welcome families:
Pebble Tossers is a nonprofit started by two Atlanta moms, Jeni Stephens and Jen Guynn, in 2008. It helps families connect with volunteer opportunities in the community.
“We were frustrated with the lack of resources for volunteering opportunities for families with young children and we wanted to teach our kids to give back,” Guynn says. “We accept kids as young as 2 years old to volunteer, but 4 years old is the age of reason for kids to understand empathy and compassion.”
The organization matched volunteers Karen Scruton and her two children, Ryan and Laura Scruton, with Open Hand, an Atlanta nonprofit organization that provides home-delivered meals and nutrition education to people with chronic illnesses. The Scrutons contacted Pebble Tossers when Laura needed a service learning project at Holy Redeemer Catholic School in Johns Creek.
“We started to volunteer as a requirement for her 6th grade class and after three years, she is now in 9th grade, we are still big supporters,” Scruton says. “It’s very interesting to meet people from all walks of life with everyone trying to achieve the same goal – feeding those less fortunate. My children have enjoyed it, and though it is hard work, volunteering is still satisfying.”
Find out more about Pebble Tossers at pebbletossers.com