By Rachael McMillan
At Chambanamoms.com, we frequently get questions that center around the subject of volunteering as a family. It’s a popular subject, and for good reason: we’re all trying to find new and better ways to shut down screen time for a few solid hours, make our community a better place, and instill strong values in our kids.
Although most area non-profits require their volunteers to be at least older teens, there are good local volunteer opportunities for families with children aged birth (yes, birth!) on up. Read on for some more ideas to get you started. And if we’ve missed an organization that allows family volunteering, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your suggestions may be included as we update this page in the future.
Champaign County Nursing Home (all ages)
The Champaign County Nursing Home welcomes volunteers to visit one-on-one with the residents. Common sense is the key; if your brood tends toward the chaotic (as mine does) in such situations, you may want to start by bringing the children in one at a time and heavily prepping them beforehand on the reasons for going and your expectations for behavior. Heck, bribery (“And if all goes well, we’ll get ice cream after!”) might be well used here — or with many of the other volunteering opportunities. At the very least, you’ll get no judgment here for encouraging volunteerism with the promise of treats.
Delivering lunch to seniors and others who benefit from this program is a great way to spend a couple of hours in the middle of the day (as a perennial volunteer, I can vouch for this one personally). It’s great if your children aren’t in school yet, or you have summers off together, or if you homeschool. You can choose one or more days a week to volunteer, and you can give Family Service — the agency that oversees the program — whatever start/stop dates work best for your family.
You will need transportation that fits your whole clan plus the two coolers that hold the meals. It’s best if you have two adults (or one adult plus a responsible teen), as it’s not super doable if you’ll need to load/unload everyone at each stop on the route. You should have someone available to wait with kids in the vehicle at all times. Having said that, kids can definitely take turns helping to hand out meals at each stop. In my experience, babies and toddlers tend to be happy just getting to come along for the ride.
Tip: Do your assigned route a few times without kids first to get the hang of it.
Your place of worship (all ages)
The benefit to plugging into places of worship to volunteer is that, typically, they offer a range of opportunities while at the same time having less-strict rules for who can help out. My own church, for example (St. Patrick’s in Urbana) has a food pantry, a yearly “Cellar-to-Garret” thrift sale, and many (MANY!) special events that require set up/clean up/baked good donations, just to name a few of the opportunities to help.
Again, let your common sense be the guide; if bringing the whole brood to volunteer will stress out the other volunteers and/or the kind people in charge of coordinating the activities, best to leave at least a few at home. However, children as young as 5 or 6 could wield a rag to wipe down tables, help shuttle donations, or even pitch in with groundskeeping.
And, as providing food for special events is a constant need at most places of worship, you can often volunteer from the comfort of home by baking/cooking together with your kids.
Salt and Light is happy to have small groups (e.g. families) help sort donations of clothing and food, tidy up the pantry, and help keep the thrift shop running smoothly. Some activities are appropriate for children as young as 7 with a responsible adult.
Salt and Light also encourages volunteering in other ways: hosting a food/clothing collection, raising funds (think lemonade stand), or doing anything else that fits in easily with family life and can help in its mission to support those struggling with unemployment, food insecurity and other personal crises.
Eastern Illinois Foodbank (typically ages 10 and up)
A while back, Mom to Know Julie Melton filled us in on why volunteering for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank is so important. This is how the Foodbank works: it takes bulk quantities of food staples and repackages them into portions that are more easily distributed to (and then by) area food pantries. This is an activity that can be done by children as young as 10 with a parent or other responsible adult. The Foodbank also sometimes hosts a Kid’s Day to get children as young as 5 and their families involved in the cause.
Champaign County Humane Society (Pet Pals Club, ages 10-15)
What child doesn’t want to help out the Humane Society? Of course, coming in to visit the animals (from afar, following shelter rules), is available to all ages. Additionally, the Champaign County Humane Society has a “Pet Pals Club” for children ages 10-15. Contact Natalie (Natalie@cuhumane.org) to get more information about this volunteer opportunity that links kids with pets.
Every child can get into the act of picking up trash (of course with the proper safety precautions). Organize the neighborhood kids and divide up the area; provide gloves. Or wait for the annual Boneyard Cleanup Day.