How to Volunteer with Your Family

A blog by Shirley Chapin, United Way’s Emerging Leaders United and Online Engagement Associate.

Serving my community has always been a passion of mine, whether it is volunteering with my church, serving as a Star Readers tutor, working with local United Way Agency Partners or working with United Way’s affinity group, Emerging Leaders United (ELU).

As a mother I long to share the importance of serving the community with my daughter. When looking for ways to get kids involved, I ask the expert: Darby Wiekrykas, United Way’s Volunteer Engagement Program Manager. She always knows the current needs of the community and how we can help. Darby shared, “There are a lot of agencies that welcome volunteers ages 10 and up, if accompanied by an adult/parent. But always contact the agency first to check if children are welcome to participate.”

Because my daughter is young, it can be challenging to find ways that she can volunteer. One way we recently involved our daughter was by serving dinner at a local homeless shelter, where our fiery toddler was welcome to join us. She walked around the dining room distributing drinks to the residents and then clearing their plates as they finished. Not only did she enjoy helping, but it also brought a smile to the faces of the residents as they interacted with her.

Since finding opportunities for younger children can be limited, we must get creative on how we share the importance of giving back to our community is. We have driven around with cheeseburgers from McDonald’s and given them to people we drove by who may be hungry. As the weather gets warmer, we hope to go to our local park and pick up trash to make it cleaner for everyone. But one of the easiest ways to encourage her to serve is by doing collections with her.

We typically go through her clothes she has outgrown and send them to a local shelter. We also go through her toys during the holidays and birthdays to remind her how we can help those around us with what we already have. Darby shares collections like this can be beneficial to children because, “it helps young children understand the impact and the importance of helping others. Kids can donate their toys, books, clothes, and even their gently used coats to local agencies.”  A great resource we use to learn the current needs of agencies is by looking at United Way’s Wish List page. This page has the up-to-date needs of local agencies and can be searched by organizations or by the items they need.

We are excited to continue to serve together as a family as our daughter gets older. To learn how your family can help, check out United Way’s Youth Summer Volunteer Guide or visit United Way’s volunteer portal.