Get Organized to Volunteer this Holiday Season!

This time of year, the ‘spirit of giving’ starts to make its way into our lives.

With a little advance planning, you can extend that spirit of giving beyond your close circle of loved ones to a broader community. It’s one of the best times of year to introduce your family to the importance of community service. Opportunities abound for people to get involved with different causes, be it collecting toys, working in a soup kitchen, helping out at a senior center, or volunteering at an animal shelter. Organizations are always looking for help during the holiday season, and most are happy to get kids involved. By getting involved with any kind of community service, children end up learning valuable lessons and are introduced to people and ideas that they might otherwise have been sheltered from. Hopefully, these lessons and ideas will stay with them for a long time, making their lives, and the lives of the ones they help, that much better.

Alicia on ‘Giving Them Choices’

‘To a child (and especially to a teenager), volunteering can seem like a pretty stupid thing to spend your time doing, and getting them to go along can be an exercise in negotiating. Instead of just forcing them to take part in an activity of your choosing, talk with your kids and try to discover what they causes interest them, and what activities they may like to do. If they love playing in the outdoors, there are plenty of opportunities provided by local Parks Departments. If they enjoy reading, many senior centers have needs for volunteers to read to residents. Animal lovers can spend time at a shelter taking care of pets in need of adoption. Don’t scare off your children to the idea of volunteerism with a intimidating or unhappy first experience. There are opportunities to fit everyone’s tastes.’

Sarah on ‘Going Light On The Guilt’

‘We all have different reasons for volunteering for our different causes. But what we all share is a sense of satisfaction about giving your time and effort to something we care about. Kids don’t necessarily have that history to base their volunteering on, and, as parents, it’s easy to fall back on using a sense of guilt to encourage kids to engage in community service. As you may guess, guilt doesn’t go very far, especially when you’re dealing with younger children. It’s important to go into a volunteering project with kids emphasizing what you can give, instead of highlighting what the people you are helping don’t have. With the right mindset, kids end up coming away from these experiences with the knowledge that they are important enough to make a real difference in someone’s life, and that’s a feeling they’ll want to relive over and over again.’

Alright everyone. Let’s turn off the TV and put away the video games.

Here are some simple steps to introduce your kids to the world of community service.

#1: One Toy In, One Toy Out
Before anyone opens up any presents this holiday season, talk with your kids about setting up a ‘One Toy In, One Toy Out’ rule. It’s a tough conversation at first, as, no matter how long it’s been since they played with a certain toy, giving it away seems like a tragedy. But let them know that, while they’re enjoying their new toys, they would be making the holiday season extra special by making one of their old toys the favorite present of someone who doesn’t have any toys at all.

#2: Family Community Service Hour
A great way to showcase all the different ways of volunteering to your kids is to make an hour out of every week into Family Community Service Hour. Each week your family can participate in a different activity, from cleaning up a local park, to helping at the local animal shelter, to planting flowers or trees, to renovating low income housing. The possibilities are endless, and you’ll no doubt find a family volunteering activity that becomes a favorite.

#3: Soup Kitchen Tradition
Everyone has family holiday traditions. Well, it’s never too late to add one. Whether its around Thanksgiving, or closer to Christmas and Hanukah, volunteering at a soup kitchen for a meal is an amazing way to come together as a family and get into the holiday spirit of giving. It will easily fall into one of the special traditions you share that will give everyone a unique appreciation of the things they have, while being able to give something of themselves at the same time.