How to Volunteer to Help Children

Some of the most valuable volunteers give only their time and attention to children in need, and you can too.
Some of the most valuable volunteers give only their time and attention to children in need, and you can too.
Photodisc/Getty Images

Does your heart break when you see a starving child? Is it hard to watch a child struggling in school? It can be troubling to be a firsthand witness to these devastating realities. On a daily basis, children are forced to live in poverty, violence, abuse and in all the other problems the world presents -- and it's taking place in alarming numbers.

Some big names have joined the effort to help children. Volunteer for Children was instituted by former Presidents Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Gerald Ford, along with former Secretary of State Colin Powell. They recognized the need for volunteers in the lives of children. By looking further into this organization, you can get a better understanding of what needs to be done and learn about different ways you can donate your time to children in need [source: Volunteer Match].

But donating your time and efforts to help children doesn't stop there. Brittany Albertson, a volunteer at the Muncie Shelter for Women and Children in Indiana, said children comprise the largest group of victims in the nation, and they obviously can't easily help themselves [source: Albertson]. So what can you do?

You don't have to be wealthy to give your money away to help a child, and you most certainly don't have to be a brain surgeon to tutor a child in elementary school. Some of the most valuable volunteers give only their time and attention to children in need, and you can too.

Helping a child doesn't have to be an inconvenience, and you'll likely find making a difference rewarding. Because there are so many different areas of need, you can choose your own focus and make an impact in a child's life.

Read on to learn how to help starving children.

Helping Starving Children

You've seen starving children in faraway countries on your TV, but there are probably desperately hungry kids in your own hometown.

Starvation is a worldwide epidemic that affects children of all ages and nationalities. While it's a significant problem in third-world countries, hunger sometimes tends to go ignored in the United States.

Feed My Starving Children is a nonprofit Christian organization committed to feeding starving children in more than 60 countries around the world. And 2008 was a successful year -- more than 300,000 Feed My Starving Children volunteers provided more than 70 million meals to children in various countries [source: Feed My Starving Children]. A monetary donation would obviously make a big difference for this organization, but you don't have to limit yourself to sending money. Feed My Starving Children has local agencies all throughout the country, and all you have to do is find a location and donate your time.

Although helping a child in the Feed My Starving Children organization is a step in the right direction, it's not the only step you can take. There are also several organizations that are focused primarily on helping starving children in the United States.

Feed the Children, a nonprofit organization that feeds children in America, works to help provide food (and educational supplies and daily necessities like soap, shampoo and toothpaste) to children of neglect, abuse and natural disasters. There are many ways to help this organization, such as:

  • You can donate your vehicle to deliver food.
  • You can sponsor a child, helping to ensure the child has food and other necessities.
  • You can go on missions to specific areas.

[source: Feed the Children].

Whether you want to help children in foreign countries or you want to make an impact right here at home, you can. Not everyone sits down to a healthy meal every night, but you can help change that.

If education is your passion, visit the next page to learn how to become a tutor.

Tutoring Children

Many children are getting adequate food, but they're not getting an adequate education.

Tutoring children doesn't require you to be an expert in any field -- children at all grade levels need help. And now, through the wonders of technology, you can even tutor a child across the country.

Online tutoring has become an alternative to home tutoring, allowing volunteers to reach more children than ever before. The tutor and child won't get quality face-to-face time, of course, but it does allow a higher level of flexibility and convenience. It's obviously a lot easier to figure out when and where to meet. There is a variety of online tutoring programs, so you may have to do a little bit of homework to find an organization that works for you.

But if you want to stick with old-school methods of tutoring, there are always local organizations that will link you with a child in need. Cabrini Connections, which is featured on Oprah's Angel Network Web site, is a great example of a local organization getting a lot of media attention. But you can always start small by signing up with a school in your area. Many schools, at any age level, provide tutoring, and they're always looking for a person who wants to devote time and attention to their students.

No matter what route you decide to take, always keep in mind that tutoring consists of building a relationship with your student and communicating with the parents. When you put these rules into practice, you'll discover that perfect test scores in high school are not the only criteria for a good mentor.

Tutoring can be a great opportunity to reach children. For more options, read on to learn about helping disabled children.

Helping Disabled Children

You might think you have to be a trained specialist or physical therapist to help a disabled child, but these kids need help from people in all occupations. You can be a musician or an equestrian trainer -- or just be sincere in your desire to volunteer help.

Disabled children can sometimes be challenging to work with because helping them requires a lot of attention. But the end result can be just as rewarding as other volunteer opportunities, if not more so.

If you don't know where to start, The Arc is one of the world's largest disability organizations. It has approximately 140,000 members in more than 780 chapters [source: The Arc]. Volunteer opportunities exist at most local chapters, simply contact your local chapter for more information. Curious about what you might be volunteering to do? Among the many volunteer options, you could be asked to chaperone a dance, gather resource and referral information or act as a volunteer advocate within The Arc's guardianship program.

In addition to looking for organized local volunteer opportunities, you can make your search even more localized by looking to your circle of friends. Perhaps you or your friends know someone who has a disabled child and needs a helping hand.

Maybe you can't invest as much volunteering time as you want to or maybe you want to do something in addition to donating your time. If so, there are many charitable organizations focused on helping disabled children that you can support, such as the Disabled Children's Relief Fund (DCRF). This non-profit 501(c)(3) organization helps children throughout the United States by providing funding for physical therapy, surgery, eyeglasses, hearing aids, orthopedic braces and other medical equipment [source: DCRF].

If you're a child of divorce, you might be interested in helping out others in the same situation. Read on to learn how.

Helping Children Cope with Divorce

You can form a variety of connections with children in need. One of these includes bonding with a child who is trying to cope with the divorce of his or her parents.

At a time when children may feel let down by their parents, they may be reluctant to open up, especially to complete strangers. However, statistics have shown that children coping with divorce seem to open up more to people they do not know, and doing so may just begin their healing process [source: Divorce Info].

The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world -- unfortunately, children sometimes get caught in the middle of the proceedings [source: Nation Master]. If you know of a child stuck in this type of situation, it could be a good idea for you to become involved. Take the child out once a week to escape the divorce atmosphere and be available to listen. Don't try to force the child to talk, but when he or she is willing to finally open up, be sure you're there.

If you don't know a child personally, organizations can match you with a child in need of assistance. For example, the nonprofit organization called Divorce Recovery, which is based in Tucson, Ariz., provides support and education to individuals and families that have been involved in a divorce [source: Divorce Recovery]. Although Divorce Recovery serves only certain areas, there are similar organizations elsewhere throughout the United States. You can contact local schools or churches to find a place that allows volunteers to help with children coping with divorce.

Divorce can be a sticky subject, and you should only help children coping with divorce if you feel prepared to do so. There are plenty of options beyond this. Head over to the next page to tackle another particularly difficult situation.

Helping Abused Children

Too many children in the United States have to endure abuse -- even one child suffering is one too many.

Sadly, the occurrence of abuse is much higher than that -- alarmingly so. In the United States, it's estimated that abuse and neglect affect more than 900,000 children each year [source: Saisan]. You might automatically think of the visible bruising and scars that accompany physical abuse, but just as many children are scarred internally from verbal abuse or neglect.

One of the best things you can do for an abused child is to report the abuse. Never assume that it's a one-time occurrence. If you believe you've witnessed or know of child abuse, contact law enforcement as soon as possible. While it's tricky to distinguish abuse, it's better to be safe than sorry.

While detecting and reporting child abuse is vital, it is also just as important to assist with post-abuse trauma. There are thousands of organizations, local and national, that serve to protect abused children. One popular organization is Childhelp, an organization that works to promote child advocacy, abuse prevention and treatment, as well as community outreach [source: Childhelp].

Childhelp focuses on creating child abuse awareness in schools, including ways of recognizing and preventing abuse. The organization advocates talking with your own children about abuse and teaching them how to recognize it and its signs and symptoms. Discussion and awareness are important parts in the process of minimizing child abuse -- doing these simple things could even save a child's life.

There are so many ways to help children - and, sadly, there is never a shortage of children to help. For more information on how you can help, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

Sources

  • Arc, The. "About Us." (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.thearc.org/NetCommunity/Page.aspx?pid=1386
  • Albertson, Brittany. Personal Interview. 4/25/09.
  • Childhelp. 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.childhelp.org
  • Disabled Children's Relief Fund. (Accessed 5/15/09) http://www.dcrf.com/ordereze/default.aspx
  • Divorce Info. "Getting Your Children through Divorce." 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.divorceinfo.com/children.htm
  • Divorce Recovery. 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.divorcerecovery.net/whoarewe.asp
  • Early Support Programme. "Caring for Someone." 4/20/09. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/CaringForSomeone/CaringForADisabledChild.htm
  • Feed My Starving Children. 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.fmsc.org/Page.aspx?pid=361
  • Feed the Children. 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.feedthechildren.org/site/PageServer?pagename=org_us_programs
  • Hillard, Catherine. "Helping Disabled Children Learn an Instrument." Essortment. 2002. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.essortment.com/family/helpingdisabled_slyd.htm
  • Leon, Kim. "Helping Children Adjust to Divorce." University of Missouri. 11/1/05. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://extension.missouri.edu/publications/DisplayPub.aspx?P=GH6611
  • Nation Master. "Divorce rate (most recent) by country." (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/peo_div_rat-people-divorce-rate
  • Saisan, Joanna. "Child Abuse and Neglect." HelpGuide.org. 10/1/08. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.helpguide.org/mental/child_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm
  • Teh, Vedis. "Why Online Tutoring is a Better Option For Your Children." Ezine. 4/4/09. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://ezinearticles.com/?Why-Online-Tutoring-is-a-Better-Option-For-Your-Children&id=2182001
  • Trahan, Marcia. "How to Begin Tutoring Children." Associated Content. 2/19/07. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/147429/how_to_begin_tutoring_children.htm
  • Tutor/Mentor Connection. "Understanding tutor/mentor as family." 4/18/09. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://tutormentor.blogspot.com/
  • Volunteer Match. "Volunteer for Our Children." 2009. (Accessed 4/20/09) http://www.child.net/volunteer.htm