You don't have to be a child psychologist to know that family time is important to child development, but even one-night excursions are becoming over budget for many families in today's faltering economy.
As the costs of traveling continue to climb, family outings have been pushed to the back of people's family planners. The cost of gas prices alone has stopped some families from going on their annual camping or RV outings. However, there is a simple solution to your money woes: group volunteering.
Volunteering as a family is a (nearly) free way to feed your craving for quality family time, while also contributing to your local community. It's a win-win situation not only for your family, but for the families you help as well. And what better way to instill family values in your children than by setting a positive example as you work side-by-side to improve the lives of others?
The ways you can contribute to your community range from one-time donation activities such as walkathons, food or clothing drives, to more long-term, hands-on experiences like community gardening, adopt-a-family programs or serving in soup kitchens. The key to selecting the "right" activity is determining the skill-sets of each family member and finding a volunteer solution that matches those skills.
This article will outline a few of the factors to consider when searching for a suitable volunteering opportunity for you and your children. And later on, this article will give you a glimpse of the many benefits that come from volunteer work.
To start, you will need to consider the abilities of your family members, and the requirements for the volunteering activities you're interested in doing. See the next page for suggestions on how to meet your family's volunteering match.
Choosing a Family Volunteer Opportunity
The opportunities for volunteering are endless. You could plant a garden, build a home, tutor a child, act as a mentor, take care of an animal in need -- all while spending good old fashioned quality time with your family. But how do you decide which activity to choose?
When selecting a volunteering activity for your family, there are a few factors you may want to consider. The ages of your children, the skills of each family member and the amount of time you have, are all components that will help you determine the best fit for your family.
In order to find an activity that will highlight a skill of each person, start by outlining the abilities and interests of each family member. Including everyone in the decision-making process will support the idea of family-togetherness and teamwork -- and it will promote equal participation from everyone. You may even want to have each person write a list of the ways he or she could contribute to a volunteer project [source: Khaitan].
Then, after you have put together a list of possible volunteering options, narrow them down by thinking realistically about the amount of time your family can commit. When you are motivated to help others, it can be easy to become a bit overzealous. But keep in mind that if you become overwhelmed in the beginning, volunteering can quickly seem like an added chore instead of a fun, family activity. So be sure to consider the work, school and extra-curricular schedules of each person in your family [sources: Khaitan, United Way].
Also keep in mind that the project you choose should not be too simple. A little bit of challenge will encourage growth, as well as help retain interest in the project [source: Nefstead].
If you are unsure of where to look for family-oriented volunteer opportunities, try contacting family-focused groups such as parent teacher associations, public libraries and local community centers [sources: Khaitan, United Way].
In exchange for donating time, many volunteer organizations offer benefits to their members. See the next page for details.
Benefits of Volunteering as a Family
Not only will volunteering as a family help you grow closer to one another, but there are some other benefits as well (especially for the kids). For young children, helping others can:
- Instill a good work ethic
- Build self-confidence
- Provide positive role models
- Enhance communication skills
- Supply work experience
- Help develop leadership skills
- Open valuable networking opportunities
All of these qualities combined create a more responsible, more socially conscious citizen -- which are valuable attributes for community members, young and old, to possess. Studies also show that people who volunteer at a young age will continue to volunteer as adults [source: Stratton].
As a young volunteer, your child's awareness of the social and economic situations will lead to better critical thinking and problem solving skills, which are useful both in and out of the classroom setting [source: Jackson].
And, as pointed out in the introduction to this article, volunteering is an inexpensive way to spend more time together as a family. In today's world, hectic schedules coupled with struggling incomes can create a deficit in the family-time department. Volunteering is an easy substitute for those family vacations that no longer fit into your monthly budget. With some activities, there is a minimal cost involved, but with others, all you need to give is your time and energy.
If you haven't yet found the right fit for your family, see the next page for links to more information on group volunteering opportunities.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Earthday Network. (Accessed 5/5/09).http://www.earthday.net/
- Jackson, Nancy Mann. "Six Reasons Why Your Family Should Volunteer." Parenthood. (Accessed 5/12/09). http://www.parenthood.com/article-topics/6_reasons_why_your_family_should_volunteer.html
- Khaitan, Rayna. "The Joy of Family Volunteering." Family Fun. (Accessed 5/11/09). http://familyfun.go.com/parenting/learn/activities/feature/dony1101volunteer/dony1101volunteer.html
- Nefstead, Scott and Sheryl Nefstead. "Recruitment Tips for a Mentoring Program." University of Minnesota Extension. 2005. (Accessed 5/12/09). http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/citizenship/DH6497.html
- Saad, Lydia. "Despite Economy, Charitable Donors, Volunteers Keep Giving." Gallop Polls. December 19, 2008. (Accessed 5/13/09). http://www.gallup.com/poll/113497/Despite-Economy-Charitable-Donors-Volunteers-Keep-Giving.aspx
- Stratton, Jim. "Today's Volunteers -- Tomorrow's Leaders." Boys and Girls Clubs of America. (Accessed 5/13/09). http://www.bgca.org/connections/05_summer/story3.html
- United Way. "Volunteer as a Family." (Accessed 5/12/09). http://www.liveunited.org/volunteer/family.cfm