Here are local acts of service you can do with young ones—and what you need to know.
Written by Addie Ladner
Many families want to teach their children the spirit of giving back. And despite Raleigh’s many accolades, there are people in our community that suffer from poverty, illiteracy and hunger. Because of this, there is no shortage of local, impactful organizations that couldn’t exist without the work of volunteers. As the new year gets underway, don’t forget to add service to your resolutions, and to pass that spirit along to children and grandchildren.
While instilling a heart of service in young people is a wonderful thing, there are more factors to consider: age requirements, physical abilities, time commitments and safety concerns, to name a few. Not all volunteer opportunities are open to, or appropriate for, kids.
“We’re always so grateful for our volunteers, but families must consider the scope of work the organization does and find age-appropriate activities,” says Susan Meador, Volunteer Services Director at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. “We’re happy to have families involved, but there are always concerns with keeping families safe. Not all experiences are appropriate for children and many places don’t let kids under thirteen help.”
Before reaching out to an organization to see if your child can volunteer, remember that these organizations have big-picture missions they are working towards, and that is their top priority. “While we are happy to have families come and couldn’t exist without volunteers, we exist to eradicate hunger, not necessarily to provide family volunteer experiences,” Meador says. Volunteers must take their roles seriously, and it’s best to do some research and planning to find opportunities suitable for you and your family’s abilities, interests, and amount of time to spare. We’ve gleaned more insight from Meador and rounded up a variety of volunteer opportunities for families below.
Planting the Seeds: Age 5 and under
It’s never too early for kids to start learning about helping others and giving back. Meador says, at this early of an age, follow the child’s lead. “As a parent you may have your own experiences values that are important to you, but also follow what’s important to them.” Here’s what you can pursue for little…
- Bookworms: Weed your home library or pay a visit to Read with Me or Quail Ridge to buy and donate a few books to Project Enlightenment, Read and Feed, NCSU, Rolling Readers, or any of the free, little libraries around town.
- Chefs: Head to the grocery store or raid your pantry to fill up a paper bag of canned goods (non-expired!) to bring to Catholic Charities, the Food Bank, or the Interfaith Food Shuttle.
- Fashionistas: Clean out those closets and dressers to donate a bag or two of clothes to Dorcas Thrift Store, or Note in the Pocket.
Hands-On Experiences: Ages 6-11
These formative years are when memories start to stick and interests are formed. Meador says this age range provides an opportunity to show kids how to do goo neighbor-to-neighbor, and to teach them to see what’s happening from their own viewpoint. “It’s really important to instill a heart of service at a young age. I frequently work with young adults who refer to memories in their childhood when they witnessed a community or cultural need,” says Meador.
A few ways these children can help out in their community:
- Bake homemade goodies for your local fire department or police station.
- Organize a family or neighborhood-wide walk to pick up trash and recycling.
- Host a lemonade stand and donate the money to a charity of their choice.
- Start a garden in your yard (short on space? try a container garden) for Plant a Row for the Hungry.
Little Leaders: Ages 12-15
As their independence increases, so do the number of volunteer opportunities that open up for kids in the tween and early teen years. At this age, sometimes with supervision, kids are given more freedom to perform important volunteer tasks on their own. A few ideas:
- Coordinate a letter-writing or care package event for servicemen and women overseas through the USO of NC or coordinating with Operation Gratitude
- Join Teen Corps Play at Marbles Kids Museum.
- Become a Counselor in Training at Arts Together camps (age 14+).
- Nurture rescued horses at Dead Broke Horse Farm (age 13+).
- Work a shift at A Place At The Table (must be accompanied by an adult).
- Pack food for their school’s BackPack Buddies program
Responsible, Engaged Citizens: Age 16-18
This is a time for real-world experience and personal growth. Meador says that many organizations, like IFFS, appreciate when volunteers can really own a task—as in, stick to it and regularly volunteer. “We love all of our volunteers. When we get some that come regularly and know what to do, our staff really comes to rely on them and we can move forward, having a volunteer lead other volunteers—it allows more planning and growing,” she says. Encourage older teens to find an organization that aligns with their interests, so they can build a relationship.
- Be a guest ambassador for the Junior Volunteer program at Wake Med Hospital or the Rex VolunTeen Program.
- Sign up to do a shift at the many community farms and gardens such as IFFS’s Camden St Learning Garden or Raleigh City Farm.
- Help build a home at Habitat for Humanity Wake County.
- Donate blood to a local Red Cross chapter.
- Sign up to participate in one of the many local charity races.
No matter a child’s age, instilling a sense of responsibility towards their community is a worthwhile effort.