Looking for ways your child can help out this summer? Try one of these ideas to find — or create — volunteer opportunities in your own community:
Clean Up Your Community Park or Playground
Choose your date and location, and then contact your local Parks and Recreation Department to find out any guidelines or permit requirements. Invite people in the neighborhood, talk to other parents, and publicize your event with local organizations. Local businesses may be willing to donate freebies for volunteers, like buttons or T-shirts; funds for garbage bags, gloves, and water; or even some plants to beautify the area. Be sure to arrive early on the day and snap plenty of shots to commemorate your efforts.
Save to Give Away
Challenge your child to save part of her allowance or to collect unwanted games, toys, and clothes. Visit a local shelter, church, or donation site together to make her contribution.
Donate Time at a Food Pantry or Soup Kitchen
Giving a few hours to a local food organization as a family offers opportunities for time together and teaches your child to appreciate his food. Your town’s Web site, mayor’s office, or phone book will have needy organizations that have an organized volunteer network.
Help Out at a Local Animal Shelter
Your local shelter probably needs help walking dogs, cleaning cages, or even just playing with animals that are cooped up all day.
Read, Perform, or Help Out With an Event at a Local Nursing/Retirement Home or Hospital
People who need long-term care are often desperate for visitors and things to do. Call facilities in your area to see what they need. Your child could read or simply chat to residents, help clean or decorate for a party, or even give an arts and crafts lesson or perform if she’s artistically inclined. Just be careful about the amount of time she can give — if she won’t be coming back on a regular basis it’s best to keep some distance rather than start visiting one resident who will wonder where she’s gone when school starts.
Host a Bake Sale, Car Wash, or Garage Sale for Charity
Help your child choose an organization that’s meaningful to her, and recruit other kids and parents to help. Be sure to mention the charity in anything you do to advertise your event, and make sure that your child can explain what the group does to people who ask. Offer a donation box for non-buyers, and contact the organization ahead of time to get leaflets you can distribute. Alex’s Lemonade Stand — an organization that began from a determined little girl’s desire to find a cure for childhood cancer and has raised more than 30 million dollars — is an inspiring example of how this kind of event can evolve over time.
Start an Original Project — or Fund Someone Else’s Great Idea
Sites like volunteermatch.org or idealist.org have resources and ideas to get you started and a searchable database of projects that may interest your child.
Volunteer opportunities are sure to succeed when you follow your child’s interests and personality. Environmental advocate? Try a cleanup project. Drama queen? Give a volunteer performance. Math whiz? Host a sale where she can count change. Just be sure if you’re working with an established organization to choose one that welcomes kid volunteers. Making the connection that helping out is pleasurable will help carry the habit into her life beyond the summer…and into adulthood.