If your child wants to make a difference, but isn't sure where to begin, try these suggestions for service with a smile.
1. Use those muscles. Does she enjoy sports or simply have tons of energy to burn? She can harness it and raise money for a good cause at the same time. Most communities have annual events — everything from bike rides to dance-a-thons to 5K walks — to raise both funds and awareness.
How you can help: Accompany her as she solicits donations; make sure she's physically prepared for the event; cheer for her on the big day.
2. BINGO! Encourage your child to share his charm at a nursing home or retirement community. Youthful visitors are almost always welcome. Check out common-area schedules, when residents come together to play a group game of bingo or cards; he can join in the fun. If your child is a performer, talk with the community's activities director about scheduling a magic show, concert, or play.
How you can help: Assist with research, phone calls, and scheduling; provide transportation.
3. Clean up a park. If the environment is where it's at for your child, have her put her passion to good use. Check with your parks and rec department or community garden to find out what volunteer help they need, whether it's picking up litter, pulling weeds, or planting bulbs.
How you can help: Slip on your gardening gloves and join in!
4. Take part in a food drive. Many organizations collect canned goods for the hungry. Your child can help organize the event or spread the word to friends.
How you can help: Talk with your child about what foods are non-perishable, and therefore donate-able, before he heads to the pantry or grocery store. Take the time to discuss nutrition facts.
5. Clean a closet. Make cleaning a feel-good event. Pick a Saturday afternoon to go through your child's clothes and set aside a stack that can go to the needy.
How you can help: Review her choices to make sure she's selected items that are in good condition (and not family heirlooms). Do your own closet while you're at it!
6. Mentor another kid. Depending on where your child excels, he can be a role model. Perhaps he can utilize his math prowess by regularly tutoring someone who struggles with numbers. Or if he's a whiz on the basketball court, he can coach a younger athlete. Being a mentor helps your child learn leadership and responsibility, but also makes a positive impact on another kid's life.
How you can help: Help match your child with a younger one who could use his help. Provide transportation or offer space at your kitchen table for tutoring.
7. Brighten someone's day. There are plenty of projects for your do-gooder at your local children's hospital. Check the age limit for volunteering, but even if your child is too young for traditional candy striper duties, she can coordinate another project. She might organize a toy drive for kids spending the holidays sick and away from home, for example, or help decorate common areas in the hospital. Or how about gathering a group of friends for a "get well soon" card-making campaign?
How you can help: Provide supplies and moral support.
8. Use the mighty pen. If your child feels strongly about an issue, encourage him to draft a letter to a local representative or newspaper, or collect signatures on a petition. Sometimes, the power of words is enough to get the ball rolling!
How you can help: Read the letter with a (constructively) critical eye. Are his arguments sound? How about his grammar and spelling?