Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Family Volunteering

When Christmas arrives each year I get inundated with emails asking me where families can volunteer over the holidays. Knowing that so many long term volunteer positions start with one-off experiences I'm eager to get families volunteering but it can be a difficult task.

First, you need to look at your family make up. Families come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes my requests have even run to "My family of 16, ranging in age from 18 months to 76 years want to volunteer on Christmas Day instead of having our typical big family dinner". For others, family volunteering may just be a husband and wife team, 3 sisters or a couple with a gaggle of kids. Where you volunteer as a family depends largely on your family make up, one size does definitely not fit all.

Next, you'll want to sit down as a family and think about what your priorities are. What kinds of causes are you interested in and what critical needs do you see in your community? List as many as you can and start narrowing them down.

Lastly, you'll need to decide what your commitment will be, whether this is  one-off volunteer experience or whether you want to make a longer term investment, be it weekly, bi-weekly, monthly or even as regular special event volunteers.

Made a decision yet? Here are a few suggestions and tips:

- If you have teens over the age of 14, you win at this game! At 14, most teens can volunteer anywhere (although some organizations have their own age rules). With teens I often find it is important to let your teens pick causes that are important to them, it'll make getting out the door and to the job a whole lot easier. Consider:
          - Volunteering at a local music festival.
          - Collecting items to donate to a local teen shelter like Covenant House.
          - Helping a charity thrift shop put on a fashion show fundraiser.

 - Everyone in your extended family, including Grandma, Uncle Henry and cousin Louise? First, make sure that EVERYONE is on board and that it's not being forced by one or two eager beavers.

          - Contact your local Out of the Cold  shelter, homeless shelter or soup
            kitchen. These places often have teams come in to serve dinners but
            calendars can fill up fast so call early.
          - Invite everyone to fundraise and come out for a charity walk/run/bike,
            it's a great way to get everyone involved without having to worry about
            the vast age range participating.

photo credit: http://mayorshealthline.wordpress.com/2011/03/25/walking-for-a-cause/
- Couple? Sisters? Brothers? Again, you win! As long as you're an adult, you can pick just about any volunteer job you wish. Volunteer with TED, take in foster dogs, be a driver for Meals on Wheels or join Big Brothers/Big Sisters... the possibilities are endless!

- Young children? This. This is the tough one. It's what prompted me to form FoodLove... I had the hardest time finding a place to volunteer where my kids could join in. You can go kamikaze and do your own thing, be it collecting change to build wells overseas, take your singing skills to a local retirement home or cook pots of soup to deliver to local shelters. But there are some other options:
          - The Humane Society/SPCA often is in need of dog walkers and kitty
          - Many towns have a Best Buddies program, matching kids up with a buddy
            that has physical or developmental issues
          - Lastly, you can always have the kids join you! I volunteer with Nutrition
            For Learning and while my kids don't have "jobs" there, they have created
            jobs for themselves each morning. They clean the tables, put away
            toothbrushes and gym equipment after all the other children
            have left for school. It's short and sweet and it's the perfect beginner job
            for little guys who have short attention spans.

photo credit: http://money.howstuffworks.com/economics/volunteer/opportunities/volunteer-opportunities-for-kids.htm
In the end, there is a volunteer job out there for EVERYONE. You can make as much or as little of a commitment as you want and if you don't find what you're looking for, you can create your own opportunity. Web developers are always in need at small non-profits, people comfortable at public speaking can be used to promote charities and give tours within an organization. Picking up trash in the park, shovelling a neighbour's driveway or cooking a casserole for someone whose spouse is in the hospital are all great volunteer opportunities that you can fit into your existing schedule.

Get your volunteer on!

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