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Volunteerism: How to Raise Your Kids to be the Helpers

I will never forget the day I walked into the small musty smelling house and followed the adults until we reached the overgrown and sadly neglected backyard.

“They will probably be doing most of their cooking outside, as that is what they are used to.”

It was the summer between my fifth and sixth grade school year and I was helping my mom volunteer to clean-up a house our church had rented for a refugee family that was to be arriving soon. I was shocked when I heard the words of our leader and kept thinking to myself:

Who cooks all their meal outside?

Why don’t they have their own house?

It was an abrupt awakening

It was an abrupt awakening for me, a pre-teen girl from a large middle-class family, who had no idea what real poverty and need were all about. We were not wealthy, but we always had food to eat, clean clothes to wear, and a warm bed each night.

Volunteering with my mom and church group that day left an impression me that I will never forget. I called my mom recently to pick her brain about that experience that happened over 35 years ago and she was surprised that I even remembered it. I have volunteered for countless other causes in the years since, but it is that early memory of learning that not all families were like mine that made the biggest impact.

In my family:

  • My grandparents volunteered;
  • My parents volunteer;
  • My husband and I volunteer;
  • My three sons, now ages 24, 21, and 15, all volunteer.

See a pattern here?

Volunteer as a family

I am often asked how to get kids to volunteer and the answer is easy: Volunteer as a family. When kids see their grandparents and parents volunteering for various causes, they consider it the norm. We help people; it’s just what we do. As our children grow older, volunteering becomes even more important, as college admissions officers and scholarship judges look for and appreciate students that give back to their communities.

When students are ready to volunteer on their own, they can find volunteer opportunities by checking with local churches and honor societies (like the National Honor Society or National Junior Honor Society).  They can ask local parks and recreation centers, sports teams, hospitals, and scouting groups. Other places to look are summer camps, day care centers, after-school programs, and youth groups. If a student is still unsure where to volunteer, they need to think about what they like to do (or may like to do) in their future career and volunteer in that area. Think hospital candy-striper for the aspiring nurse and teacher’s helper for future educators.

Most everyone possesses the desire to help others, and fostering and strengthening this need is an important job for all parents. Children learn best by example, so if you volunteer in your community and share the experiences with your kids, they will want to be helpers also. It feels good to help others and it is extremely rewarding to see your children grow into successful compassionate adults who volunteer on their own, without any prompting from their parents. Elizabeth Andrew says it best, “Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”

Do you volunteer? How does it make you feel? Share your favorite community service activities or tell us where your family volunteers together in the comments section below!

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