VOLUNTEERING WITH YOUR FAMILY
by Susan J. Ellis
If you are like most people, there are simply too few hours in a day. You have many demands on your time, from doing what your boss wants to doing what your children want. And with all that is already filling your schedule, you can't see how you can become a volunteer, even if you want to help solve community problems.
Here's a unique idea that has many benefits: become a volunteer along with some or all of your family members!
Family volunteering can be done by the whole family together or by one parent and one child or teenager as a special "twosome" project. Or it can be several siblings together. It can involve both parents or one parent and an extended family member such as a grandparent or aunt/uncle. The mix-and-match possibilities are endless. The agency receiving your volunteer services benefits by having more helpers at one time. If you volunteer on a regular schedule and occasionally a family member cannot come one week, there are others to help fill in.
What do you gain by volunteering together as a family? First of all, you assure that elusive but much-sought goal of "quality time" with each other. You share a common bond while doing something worthwhile for others. You get to know your children in new ways, and vice versa. The process of demonstrating skills and learning new ones gives both age levels the chance to respect one another, work together towards the same goals -- and have something to talk about all week!
If you are already active as a volunteer somewhere, you can continue your participation with less guilt about the time you spend away from your family. Now you'll be with them -- and the organizations you care about will receive even more volunteer help!
Choosing a Family Volunteer Project
Call a family meeting and take time to consider this whole idea. Make sure everyone, no matter how young, participates in the discussion. You might want to proceed this way:
· Make a list of all the volunteering each member of the family is doing now. Would the others like to help with any of these activities?
· What causes interest you? Allow everyone to suggest a community problem of concern to him or her. If some of the ideas intrigue the whole family, start exploring what organizations in your community are already working on these. Use the Yellow Pages, go to the library, visit the Volunteer Center.
· Also consider what types of work everyone wants to do. Make two lists: one for "Things We Know How to Do" and one for "Things We Would Like to Learn How to Do." Make sure something is listed for each member of the family. This is a great chance to acknowledge the talents of parents and children. These lists will also prove useful when you interview with an agency.
It may take several family meetings to complete these steps, but the conversations should be very interesting!
You will then be ready to offer your services as a family volunteer team. Call several organizations for appointments and screen your options. See whether the agency representatives are comfortable talking to your children as well as to the adults in the family. Does the agency have something meaningful for you to do as a group?
You may want to begin with a one-time activity. This will test the water to see how everyone likes volunteering together.
Once you have committed to a volunteer project, take it seriously. Show your children that volunteer work is important and meaningful. Talk about the activity during the week and plan ahead to do it, even when things get hectic. Some of the work may introduce your children to new ideas and possibly to people different from themselves. What a wonderful opportunity to pass along your values and ethics-- but only if you take the time to talk about everyone's reactions. You, too, may be challenged by what you experience as a volunteer. Share those feelings with your children.
If you have several children, the time may come when you want to focus on an individual son or daughter. Sharing a volunteer project as a twosome may be the key to helping each child feel special.
What about Divorced Families?
Divorce is a fact of life for a growing number of Americans and may be for you, too. And although there are many models for joint child custody arrangements, in the majority of cases one parent becomes the primary custodian of the children. If you are the non-custodial parent, you face the prospect of short-term "visits," often over weekends or school holidays. Do you fear becoming solely a playmate in your child's limited free time?
All of the reasons why volunteering as a family unit is a good idea go double for divorced families! By selecting a mutual volunteer project, you and your children have the chance to share something special together -- something not done with the primary caregiving parent.
You have a purpose to some of your mutual time, beyond filling the hours with play. Of course the volunteering should be fun, but it has a meaning besides enjoyment. You can demonstrate values and ethics to your children, passing along important parental expectations that might otherwise come up during an afternoon at the ballpark.
Non-custodial parents can lose track of how fast their children develop. By teaming up as volunteers, you can observe your youngster's skills and personality traits. Similarly, your son or daughter has the opportunity to get to know you in completely new ways.
Because time is precious during a visit, you may not want to commit to a volunteer assignment requiring weekly attendance. Volunteering can be scheduled once a month or even seasonally at first. If you lives in the same community as your children, it may be possible to arrange for joint volunteering at a time in addition to your predetermined visits. For example, if your child is active in a youth organization or sports league, you might become an adult volunteer and join your son or daughter at the regularly- scheduled group activities.
As children grow into teenagers, the rationale for parent/child volunteering becomes even stronger. The much-discussed "communication gap" is a problem even when a teen lives under the same roof as the adult. When a parent is separated from the daily growth process of a teenager, it is important to find ways to become re-acquainted as each new stage of maturity is reached. If the volunteer work is truly selected out of mutual interests -- or perhaps in support of your child's concern for a cause -- the volunteer activity becomes an anchor around which to maintain a relationship.
The above article was borrowed from: http://www.charityguide.org/volunteer/motivation/volunteering-with-your-family.htm
Kids Can Volunteer
You've seen news reports about people who need assistance after a natural disaster or animals in need. Maybe you've walked past people who are living on the streets. Or perhaps you've watched TV programs about how lonely and isolated older people can get.
So what can you do about any of those things, you ask? The answer: You can volunteer.
Volunteering gives you an opportunity to change people's lives, including your own. If you're feeling frustrated or overwhelmed by the news of a disaster, volunteering to help can be a great way to cope. If you'd like to support a cause but can't afford to donate money, you can donate your time instead.
Helping others in need is such an important part of the American way of life that many high schools require their students to spend a certain number of hours volunteering in order to graduate.
So how do you go about it?
Find What's Right for You
Volunteering isn't like school: Instead of having the choices made for you about where to go and what subjects to learn, you get to pick. You can choose what really interests you and who (or what) is most deserving of your time.
If you like animals, help out at a local animal shelter. Most shelters depend on volunteers to keep the cats and dogs happy and well exercised. (And when you're walking rescued dogs, it's not just the pooches that get a workout you benefit too!)
If you think you may be interested in politics, volunteering to help with a campaign is a great way to find out how things work on the inside. Even if you're too young to vote, you can make a difference by helping on a political campaign whether it's for the president of the United States or your town mayor.
If you have a friend or relative who has or had a medical problem (like cancer, HIV, or diabetes, for example), you might be inspired to donate your time to help an organization that raises money for research, delivers meals, or offers other help to people with the illness.
If you like children, there are tons of volunteering opportunities from being a Big Brother or Big Sister to helping out in an after-school sports program.
You also can:
- serve food at a homeless shelter
- volunteer to spend time at a retirement community
- help out at your church or synagogue
- take part in a park cleanup day
The possibilities are endless!
And if you have more than one thing you love, you can combine the two: For example, if you love kids and are great at arts and crafts, visit your local children's hospital and offer to lead art activities for young patients.
Find What Fits Your Schedule
After you've discovered what interests you, decide how much time you want to spend and what fits into your schedule. Most organizations want volunteers to commit to giving them a set amount of time every week or two it varies according to the organization.
But what if school, sports, or other commitments prevent you from devoting time every week? Many large organizations (especially those related to the environment or finding cures for diseases) have daylong activities that you can take part in once in a while. These include walkathons, bike rides, cleanup days, or building homes for those in need. Not only are these great ways to help, you can also get some exercise.
Expand Your Mind
Volunteering is a great way to learn new skills from working as part of a team to setting and reaching goals. It gives you a chance to discover what kinds of things you're best at and enjoy the most. A volunteer job that you love can even help shape your ideas about your career goals.
Volunteering also can provide you with a sense of responsibility because people really depend on you. And it can help you develop a new understanding of people who are different from you people with disabilities, people in financial distress, sick kids, or the elderly.
Volunteering helps people feel they make a difference that they do have the power to change things for the better. When people depend on you, it can change the way you look at yourself. You can feel proud of the goals that you've achieved for an organization whether it's helping to organize a 10K to raise money for breast cancer or running the race itself.
Volunteering is also a great way to get a perspective on your own life. Sometimes it's easy to get consumed by worries about your grades or the fight you had with your friend or parent. And although these things are very important in their own way, sometimes it can be helpful to get some distance and think about other things. Volunteering allows you to do this. It lets you focus on others and see that your involvement in the world can be meaningful.
Finally, volunteering can help save you from being bored it gives you a place to be where you can have a good time and keep busy.
In addition to all the other reasons for volunteering, it can look impressive on college or job applications. That's not the main reason for volunteering, of course don't do it just to please other people or only to look good or you won't enjoy it. But volunteering does show others (and yourself!) that you are reliable enough to make a commitment and show up on schedule.
Volunteering also shows employers and colleges that you believe in making the world a better place and that you're willing to sacrifice your time and energy to do it.
So Where Do I Sign Up?
After you've decided what you're interested in and how much time you can devote, it's time to find out where you can volunteer.
You have several choices. You can search the Internet or look in your local phone book under "volunteer." You can call an organization directly and ask if they need volunteers in your area. You can ask friends or relatives for ideas and contacts or look on bulletin boards in your library or in bookstores. Click on the Resources tab on this page to get a few more ideas.
When you're calling an organization to offer your time, it's best to ask for a volunteer coordinator. Be ready to answer some questions they may ask, like:
- Why do you want to volunteer for our organization?
- What do you know about our organization?
- How many hours a week will you be able to volunteer?
- What are your interests?
- Do you have any special skills?
- Do you have a way to get here?
Most places will ask you to come for an interview, which is usually pretty casual they want to talk to you face to face and if they haven't yet asked the questions above, they will do it at the interview.
Whether your interview is on the phone or in person, don't forget to ask questions of your own. Because volunteering is a two-way street, it's a good idea to think about certain issues ahead of time. You might want to ask:
- What will be expected of me if I volunteer here?
- What kind of training will I receive?
- How many other volunteers are there?
- How many hours do you expect me to volunteer each week/month?
If it's a good fit meaning you like the organization, they like you, and you like the work volunteering can be an incredible experience.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: September 2005
The article above was borrowed from: