Making the most of opportunities to volunteer as a family

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Many families, busy with jobs, school, chores, extracurricular activities, or even watching TV in different rooms of the house, find they don’t have the opportunity to spend a lot of quality time together. Volunteering as a family can bring families closer together while making a positive impact in their community and even within their own family unit. It is an inexpensive way to spend more time together and there are great benefits for parents, children and spouses.

What better way is there for a child to learn about community service than to watch their parent volunteering in their community? When kids see their parents volunteering at a young age, they are more likely to continue volunteering throughout their lives. Volunteering helps build character in our youth by teaching patience, compassion and accountability – all of which can aid in preparing them for the workforce.

There are many different ways that families can volunteer, from hands-on building trips in other countries h, to one-time events in their own communities, to weekly commitments on a regimented schedule. Many organizations are continually searching for volunteers but relatively few seem to promote volunteering as a family affair. And with many students needing to complete 40 hours of community service during their high school tenure, this can be a perfect opportunity for parents to serve as a role model and pass on important family values.

Benefits for youth

  • Instills a good work ethic – Having a time commitment and being held accountable instills good skills for showing up on time and following through on directions.
  • Develops Leadership Skills – Leadership roles are easier to achieve in a volunteer role than through employment, when at a younger age.
  • Networking Opportunities – Meeting new people who can assist with employment, schooling and references.
  • Communication Skills – Youth have more opportunities to spend time with adults and this in turn will develop their communication skills.
  • Career Options – Volunteering can show opportunities for employment and aid in the development of career aspirations.
  • Enhances Job or University/College Applications – Schools and employers are looking for volunteer work on applications. It shows commitment to something bigger than yourself.
  • Critical Thinking – Young people can increase their awareness to different social situations that can lead to better problem solving and critical thinking.

Benefits for adults

  • Time with their children – Teens tend to spend more time with friends than family – this is a good time for parents to do something worthwhile with their kids.
  • Improved technical skills – Youth are generally more technically savvy then their parents. Volunteering in a role that requires more advanced technical skills can be a great way to learn from their teen.
  • Community Connections – Provides an opportunity to be connected with your community and meeting new people within your area.
  • Exercise – Keeps you moving and burning calories rather than giving in to the possibility of being a couch potato. Volunteering can be a great alternative to watching too much TV!
  • Contributing to your Community – Feeling a sense of accomplishment that you have done something to better your neighbourhood.

Benefits for the community

  • Brings people together – Closer knit communities help make positive changes which enhance the lives of all that live there.
  • Provides intergenerational relationships – Gives people of all ages the opportunity to work together for a common goal.
  • Multiculturalism – Bringing different cultures together helps meld the community and promote diversity.
  • Belonging – People feel less alienated and more part of a group and the community recognizes that they are contributing members of society.

Family volunteering can consist of all different age groups and combinations of family members. Some middle-aged children find volunteering with their elderly parent a great way to spend quality time together. It may get the senior out of their apartment or retirement residence once a week and allow them to feel that they are making a difference, regardless of their age. Grandparents may find it difficult to find things in common to do with their grandchildren but they can have a common goal and volunteer together in their community. These are memories that will be treasured forever.

What does a prospective volunteer need to think about?

  • What do they like to do? They need to choose jobs within the volunteer scope that they will enjoy doing. The more interest the role has to everyone involved, the more likely they are stick to their commitment.
  • Is there a particular cause that interests them? Is there a cause or issue that everyone in the family is passionate about? It will be easier for them to make a commitment if they are enthusiastic about the organization they are helping.
  • What is the time commitment? They need to make sure they are able to set aside the time that is required for the tasks, otherwise they will not only let down the organization but also their own children. It can also show children that it wasn’t really that important to the parents in the first place, or can give the impression to children that it isn’t important to follow through on commitments. This can instill bad habits in young people.
  • What types of skills do they already have and what do they need to learn? They should try to choose something that all family members can contribute to rather than having one person doing all the work while others may just have to watch.
  • Start small. Try out a one-day volunteer activity like serving food at a local shelter and seeing how it goes before making a long time commitment.

Families who volunteer together can have more meaningful relationships, positive attitudes, a sense of purpose and a commitment to community service. By offering family volunteering opportunities at your organization you can pass on some very valuable experiences for all involved.

Kim McFaul is the Chair of the Owen Sound Association of Volunteer Administrators (OSAVA). Follow them online on Facebook by clicking here.

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