Throughout Nebraska, volunteering requirements are a norm embedded in nearly every graduation plan from kindergarten through high school. Giving back is a value everyone would say is important on some level, yet busy schedules, diverse children interests or countless other things make consistent family volunteering feel nearly impossible to implement. However, experts said making volunteering together a norm benefits your entire family.
1. Volunteering helps introduce a value set and shows children how to integrate them into daily lives.
Volunteering is a great way to highlight and teach important values like sacrifice and service to children. By choosing organizations that are important to you and your family, children invest in them as well. From church cleanings to environmental clean-ups, volunteering helps children take ownership in a religious community or of a social issue that will carry with them through life. Introducing your child to volunteering at a young age makes them believe they can make a difference and have an impact on those around them.
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“No matter your age, no matter your background, no matter how much you had or didn’t have, you still have something to offer to the community. And in a sense, your responsibility to do so,” said Habitat for Humanity Public Affairs and Advocacy Director Tracie McPherson. She has two teenage boys and has brought them to service events throughout their lives so they develop a “heart for volunteer work.”
2. Children discover passions and interests through exposure and skill development while volunteering.
These values can then go further to help children discover their passions and learn life-long skills. Marjorie Maas, executive director of SHARE Omaha, said when it comes to volunteering, everyone has an “itch” to scratch in their community. Identifying that “itch” is the best place to start when looking for a place to volunteer with your family.
“Say a parent realizes their children are very interested in animals. And so, they get involved at the local petting zoo. They get involved at the Humane Society. They help with cleanup, when necessary, for wildlife organizations,” said Maas. “All of those things show that you can be interested in something and make a difference with something at the same time.”
By choosing organizations to volunteer at that have activities or causes your child has interest in, volunteering becomes a fun activity they want to do rather than a chore you are forcing them into.
Volunteering also teaches children new skills. Maas and her family volunteered for Outlook Nebraska, and her daughter learned how to address and stuff envelopes, which is a skill needed in daily life. Children can learn how to take care of plants by volunteering at the community garden or how to play with a dog while helping at the Human Society. Learning and volunteering go hand-in-hand.
3. It helps children make connections and grow their communication skills.
Volunteering helps children make connections with people and organizations in their community. Children learn to communicate with adults they are working with and gain mentors and friends. They also can connect with the people they are serving who might have different backgrounds or life experiences.
Emily Nguyen volunteered with her father at Habitat for Humanity every summer starting at age 15. She said her favorite memory was working with a homeowner whose primary language was not English. Despite this language barrier, they found other ways to communicate and grow in friendship while working to build the homeowner’s house.
“We may have had different experiences, but there was commonality,” Nguyen said. She plans on her children helping at Habitat when they are old enough so they can learn how to communicate across differences and grow as a family through volunteerism.
Volunteering helps children learn how to find things in common with people different than themselves. A skill that makes them better friends, students and future employees.
4. Becomes a bonding event that produces lasting memories.
Volunteering can be fun and will produce lifelong memories with your children. It combines a value set, new skills and a fun activity into one event. When your whole family can partake in those things together, memories are bound to be made.
“Volunteering with your parents is great. With their siblings is also great, but this is an excellent opportunity for able-bodied grandparents to get out with their grandkids and introduce them to something that the families may be passionate about, or their grandparents are passionate about,” Maas said.
How to get started
Identify what you want to teach your children through this experience and how you want to give back. Look around your community and see what organizations are helping make it a better place — maybe it is your church or school or a neighbored group. Reflect on causes you are passionate about.
Get in contact with a volunteering organization. If you are struggling to find a volunteering opportunity within your community that matches your schedule or values, go to SHAREomaha.org. In just a few clicks, you will find hundreds of nonprofits looking for volunteers. Plus, you can filter your search based on activity, age group and type of organization. There are even virtual volunteer options.
Talk to children about the event, and why you are doing it. By having a conversation beforehand, you prepare them socially and mentally for the new experience by laying out rules and expectations. Plus, it allows you to explain why you intentionally chose this event for them to come to and help them understand its importance.
Volunteer and allow your children to help. Choose a date and add it to the family calendar. When you are volunteering, give your children specific tasks to help with. By allowing them to help with the work, you are teaching them they can make a difference and their work is appreciated.
Debrief the experience after. Depending on the volunteering opportunity, your children may have been exposed to things like hunger insecurity or homelessness for the first time. It is important to allow them to ask questions and share what they noticed when helping. Depending on how your children felt about the experience, you can also make changes in your plans for next time.