Nourishing Family Volunteerism

jhunter-good-deeds-photoby Janet Hunter, Volunteer and Community Engagement Director, Michigan Community Service

Years ago, as a Volunteer Manager for a retirement living community in rural Michigan I was professionally challenged by a delightfully tenacious 10 year old girl named Charlotte. She simply wanted to volunteer with her mother on our campus. 

Our organization did not allow for volunteers to serve until the age of 14.  Charlotte was determined to serve and called or came into my office with her mother weekly to check if I was making any progress on changing our volunteer policy to be inclusive of families.  I had opened up the conversation with the administrators and my colleagues but was met with little enthusiasm or support for the idea due to reservations about supervision and liability issues.  There was also trepidation about the time and energy it would take to create meaningful volunteer opportunities for entire families.

After weeks of brainstorming with Charlotte and her mother, we came up with a list of viable activities a family could do serving on our campus.  Definition of a family would also be challenged to include any two or more caring and supportive individuals consisting of at least one adult over the age of 18.  We started with a pilot program that eventually grew to include mothers with babies and toddlers, grandparents with grandchildren, older sisters with younger sisters, Big Brothers Big Sisters and their littles and many more combinations of families.   

Families in America come in all shapes, sizes and ages which only presents an even wider door for organizations to have their needs met and a chance to offer and create new service opportunities. Volunteering as a family is something we can all do. Whether it’s two of us or an extended family.  What a great way to begin a new family tradition.

o-family-volunteering-570We often frantically pursue exposing our children to extracurricular activities like dance classes, clubs, sports teams, music groups and the theater at an early age in hopes it creates lifetime skills but we often forget that early habits of service to others may just as importantly help our children develop into more caring, compassionate and giving citizens of the world. 

Charlotte changed the fabric of life at this retirement community by introducing us to the value of family volunteering.  It would not have happened without her mother and father’s encouragement, desire to teach valuable lessons in giving and the willingness to come out of their own comfort zone to participate in some of her chosen volunteer activities.

I’ve wondered over the years, if I had not taken up the challenge of this 10 year old girl how different the culture of this organization would have been. Fast forward 15 years and the family volunteering program continues to be a vibrant, enriching and important program in the life of the residents and staff of this retirement community.  The acceptance of younger volunteers has also grown.  Later, we went on to create after school programs for elementary and middle school youth, where parents and older siblings were welcomed. Our pool of volunteers soared!

National Family Volunteer Day is Saturday, November 19, 2016.  As we enter the holidays and our search for finding the true spirit of the season, here are some simple ways to explore with your family meaningful ways to engage and perhaps begin your family on a yearlong journey of giving and community service. 

25 Ways to Nourish Family Volunteering this Holiday Season

“The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives purpose and meaning.” – Mitch Albom, Michigan Author & Philanthropist

  1. Support our Troops by packing a Christmas shoebox with some of the comforts of home for Operation Shoebox.
  2. Record an audiobook for others by going to Librivox a free public domain for audio books.
  3. Make “blessing bags” by filling zip lock bags with small useful items like protein bars, pair of socks, fleece gloves, travel size personal care items, and wet wipes to give to those who ask for handouts or are homeless. Don’t forget to put in a personal “I care” note or simple drawing of encouragement.
  4. Create a Family Giving List – add to your many holiday lists one that lists 12 ways your family can give in the community or provide service for the upcoming 12 months. Make sure the kids have input!
  5. Learn about philanthropy and spread financial stewardship with your child, by funding a micro-loan and tracking how the loan is paid back via the organization KIVA.
  6. Decorate a senior’s home in your neighborhood with holiday lights or offer to help with putting up and taking down a Christmas tree for them to enjoy throughout the holiday.
  7. Deliver hot drinks to someone who’s been outside in the cold all day, like a Salvation Army bell ringer, 
  8. Partake in an Angel Tree.  There is bound to be one in your community if not start one. Check with your local United Way to find one or where to offer to organize one.
  9. Help end world hunger. The gift that keeps giving. Give a goat to a family.
  10. Establish a “family giving box” by having the kids decorate a large box or container to serve as the family collection box of outgrown or unused items that can be tossed in. When the box is full, take it as a family to a local charity.
  11. Eat at least one meal this holiday season as a family at a community meal or shelter to provide an opportunity to talk and share with people in tough situations. If appropriate, volunteer ahead of time to help serve meals and/or clean up as well.
  12. Together as a family choose toys to give to a local toy drive.
  13. Create a batch of thank you cards to give throughout the year to share how your family appreciates their civic service – the mail deliverer, snow removal personnel, the garbage & recycling collectors, etc.
  14. Read holiday stories or join a scheduled activity with seniors living in a nursing home or assisted living campus by contacting their activity director. 
  15. Sing carols with a shut-in, you can get a list of who will be all alone this holiday from a local church or senior center.
  16. Make and give environmentally friendly cleaning products to share with neighbors.
  17. Walk and pet animals at your local animal shelter or animal rescue mission.
  18. Contact your local food pantry, alongside your children and request what food item is most in need. Check your cupboard to see if you have the needed item to spare and donate it.
  19. Mail a card to reconnect with a relative that your family has not seen in a while.
  20. Go on a trash walk and help clean up your neighborhood or section of your community.
  21. Help clean up after social hour at church or the school Christmas program as a family.
  22. Create a get well card together and drop it off at your local hospital for a child suffering an illness.
  23. Make and tie a fleece blanket to donate to a homeless shelter in your community.
  24. Deliver cookies or treats to the volunteer staff of a local food or clothing pantry.
  25. Gather school supplies for a family in need by asking your school Principal if there is a family in need and donate the items anonymously.

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