Jump directly to the Content

Volunteer Training

Get your kids to give their time

At three years old, my son made the worst sandwiches in the world. The bologna would hang off the bread, the cheese ended up in a ball, and the lettuce, well, that was typically picked off the floor and thrown away. Never mind that it would take a full five minutes to get one that was presentable; one would get done. Only forty-nine to go!

I say these words with pride because those 50 sandwiches would eventually end up at our local homeless shelter. A side of chips, cookies, and an apple rounded out a meal that was welcomed by the shelter's clients.

As your kids move from working by your side to independent efforts, you'll see the concept of doing volunteer work become an integral part of their lives.

My sons and I have been volunteering in various capacities for most of their lives. Sometimes it only involves helping me gather items for the Goodwill truck, at other times we bring food to our local church, and sometimes it's making sack lunches for 50 people.

As a Christian, I carry a little voice inside me that nudges me to teach my sons the value of volunteer work, the value of helping those who are economically "least among us." Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:40, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." I welcome, and nurture, that comforting voice inside me.

Ways to Raise Volunteers

Raising volunteers is a process that can begin when children are quite young. For preschoolers, I've found that home-based efforts are ideal. For that, you want to consider your child's personality and stage of development. If your child is mastering the concept of sharing, have her help gather her old toys for donation to a local women's shelter (which also accommodates many children). If your son loves to help in the kitchen, bake some cookies together and deliver them to your local police or fire station.

When your volunteering takes you out of your home, go ahead and let your kids be spectators. The first few times my sons and I dropped off our sack lunches, they stayed glued to my side, and that was okay. After a few visits they would wander a bit and respond with smiles as the people greeted them warmly. The connection I witnessed happening still brings tears to my eyes.

As the process continues with grade-school children, more challenging projects may suit them better. At this age they clearly understand the value of money and can be encouraged to raise funds for worthy causes. Shoveling, mowing, and making cookies for bake sales are all ways that money can be raised for a crisis they see in the news. Again, think about what your child uniquely offers the world. Does he love animals? Animal shelters would welcome simple catnip toys made by your children. Does she have a medical condition that brings her to the doctor? Raise money to buy small gifts to be given to children who are brought into the emergency room at your local hospital.

Grade school is also a wonderful time to take advantage of the special talents your child possesses. If she plays an instrument, let her entertain at a retirement community. If he loves reading, then accompany him to a nursing home to read favorite books to the residents. If she's great at organizing things, have her sort and stack food at a local food pantry. If he loves to draw, have him create colorful "thank you" postcards for our troops overseas. The opportunities really are endless when you consider what unique blessings God has given your child and then look for a way to express these to others.

Over time children will branch out and begin guiding their volunteer efforts on their own. The teen years are a great time to let them explore opportunities at school and church, to find a cause about which they really care. For the outgoing, a summer car wash provides funds for an organization they choose to support. If they're more comfortable in a smaller group, then the local animal shelter might be perfect for them. The hours I spent as a child petting and humming to cats in a shelter was ideal for an introvert like me.

As they move from working by your side to independent efforts, you'll see the concept of doing volunteer work become an integral part of their lives. It's a valuable attribute to acquire at any age, and it's not tough to get started. Here are some easy places to begin:

  1. Ask at church. Church is a wonderful place to get firsthand knowledge of an organization's needs, as well as their track record. You can easily join in events sponsored by your church or contact the organizations separately to inquire about a project for your family. Either way, you're sure to find numerous opportunities to get your kids involved in helping others.
  2. Ask your friends. Talk to people around you who share your faith, priorities, and outlook. Find out what projects their children are working on in your community, or groups they have helped in the past. You may be surprised how involved these folks are, since usually the most active people don't advertise their endeavors. In the same way, if you find a group that could use help, be sure to spread the word.
  3. Ask your child. Depending on their ages, your children may be able to suggest general ideas on how they can help. Their input will tell you what they would enjoy doing and what they consider to be their strengths. Use this information to narrow down your search to specific areas. Even young children can give you valuable insight if you explain that you want to think of ways to help others.
  4. Check your local paper. Most community newspapers have a section covering "volunteer opportunities." Read through these to find the one that is right for your family and give them a call to find out more details.
  5. Search the Web. You'll find a wealth of information online for most organizations, including specifics on their immediate needs. In general, it's always a good idea to do a bit of online research on any group you consider supporting. There are also numerous sites that will match your family with an organization in your area that needs help. Some of these sites also report on the reputation of the organizations and provide information on how funds are used so that you can make an informed decision.
  6. Involve the whole family. For kids of all ages, the best activities will include the entire family. You'll be amazed at the conversations that are started and thoughts that are shared as you work together as a team.
  7. Make it a routine. Choose the level that you are comfortable with—be it once a week, monthly, or quarterly—but do commit to a schedule. Remember that every little bit helps—and teaches.
  8. Make sure it's a match. Be persistent about finding something that will match with your child's personality and your family's schedule. Ideally it should be something that they are capable and, more importantly, comfortable doing. Have an honest discussion with the organization about the ways your family would like to help. Remember, it has to be something that everyone can joyfully support.
  9. Commit to change. Remember that you don't need to make a lifelong commitment to the organization you choose the first time around. Pick a time period (maybe six months) and evaluate your work at the end of that time. I believe that by varying the organizations we support, I illustrate to my sons the endless ways we can reach out as Christians. On a practical level, as schedules and ages change, you'll most likely need to change the organization or your manner of support.

Remember that our children look to us to provide the bricks as they lay the foundation of their lives. Let your children see you care for those outside your circle of family and friends. Let your children experience making someone's life a bit better. Most of all, let your children nurture that little voice inside them that will nudge them as needed.

Linda Kozlowski is a freelance writer and a mother of two boys. She lives with her family in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Free CT Women Newsletter

Sign up for our Weekly newsletter: CT's weekly newsletter to help you make sense of how faith and family intersect with the world.

Read These Next


Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter

Follow Us

More Newsletters