Giving Back: Volunteer Activities For The Whole Family

While signing up for volunteer work around the holidays is always a great way to spread cheer, you don’t have to wait until the end of the year to give back to the community in which you live and work. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer throughout the year, and you can find ways to help that appeal to all ages and interests. Volunteering is fun, rewarding and introduces you to new people and skills.

The Hidden Benefits Of Volunteer Work

Photo Credit: Helga Esteb
Photo Credit: Helga Esteb

Volunteer work always has a meaningful, positive impact on the community, but did you know that you will attain many personal benefits, too? A comprehensive study published by the Corporation for National & Community Service uncovered that volunteering improved the mental health of those who provided support services far more than it did for those on the receiving end of the volunteer work. For example, serving food at a soup kitchen will make the diners feel better with a hot meal and conversation, but the good feelings and sense of accomplishment the servers felt lasted much longer.

The study also found that volunteering is especially beneficial for older adults who have time to spare during retirement. Without the deep commitments of career and child-rearing to deal with, retirees find that volunteer work gives shape to their days and increases their sense of purpose and meaning. Volunteering can also provide physical activity, time outdoors and human companionship, all of which are big mood boosters for people of all ages.

Volunteering is also a great way to keep your brain active and engaged in learning something new. Adults don’t often have opportunities to pick up new skills once they leave school and settle into a career. Choosing an activity that requires you to wield a hammer or cook an unfamiliar dish helps you fire up those synapses and keep your brain sharp. Depending on the activity, it’s also a meaningful way to teach kids the vocational skills no longer covered in schools now that home economics and wood shop are largely a thing of the past.

Volunteer Ideas For All Ages

You’re never too old or too young to help others. Choose volunteer opportunities that match your skills and abilities, and you’ll find work that you can feel good about for the long haul.

Volunteer Opportunities For Children

kid volunteer dog shelter

Getting children involved in their communities at a young age is an important way to help them learn about the world and the importance of helping others. The best volunteer experiences are hands-on and interactive, so that they internalize the meaning of their work and foster strong interpersonal connections. Choosing age-appropriate tasks and providing adult supervision will make the activities memorable and fun.

  • Have Children Visit The Elderly: Hospitals and nursing homes are always on the lookout to engage their older patients. This is an especially rewarding activity if your children’s grandparents live far away. Even the youngest children can do arts and crafts or sing songs with older patients, while older children can put together a talent show or other entertaining performances.
  • Get Children Involved In Animal Charities: Many kids love animals, so they’ll likely be happy to put in some hours at a local veterinary office or animal shelter. While very young children may not be able to work directly with the animals themselves, they can help decorate cookies for a fundraising bake sale or collect items like blankets and pet food to keep a shelter well stocked. Some shelters even have programs for kids to engage with animals through reading. Not only does this give the animals love and attention, but it also helps young readers gain confidence and improve skills.

Volunteer Opportunities For Teens

teen volunteer kitchen

As children grow, they learn many more skills that can be put to work in a volunteer setting. Teens with driver’s licenses can get themselves to and from regular stints at a local charity and can help by transporting supplies as well. For the most engagement, allow your teens to choose a cause they are passionate about so they’ll have incentive to honor their volunteering commitments.

  • Get Teens Involved In The Arts: Many local theaters and performance spaces are non-profits that get a lot of help from interested volunteers. Teens can work as ushers to hand out programs and show guests to their seats. To build some life skills, they can also volunteer in the costume or scene shops — sewing and carpentry are skills that will serve them well into adulthood.
  • Have Teens Donate Their Skills: Many volunteer opportunities focus on fundraising, but your teen will get a greater sense of accomplishment from doing or making something instead. Knitting scarves or sewing blankets for the homeless, cooking for shut-ins and helping the elderly navigate email to write to their grandchildren are just a few examples of how to put skills to good use for others.

Volunteer Opportunities For Adults

volunteer reading

While adults aren’t limited by age or physical strength the way younger volunteers are, it can be hard to know where to start in the world of volunteering when there are so many great causes out there. You can’t do everything, though, so decide how much time you can devote to your volunteer work and try to stick to a schedule — it’s always OK to say no to extra work to avoid burnout.

  • Volunteer Close To Home: Charity work doesn’t have to mean working for a large, nationwide organization. You can start right in your own community by organizing a volunteer group with your own homeowners’ association. A group of like-minded people can do a lot to build community morale and improve a neighborhood when they band together. Plus, it’s highly rewarding to see the direct impact of your volunteering. Want to take it a step further? If you live in a community governed by a homeowners’ association you can join a community committee or even run for a seat on your community’s Board of Directors.
  • Try Voluntourism: If you’re interested in learning about other cultures and helping those less fortunate around the world, you may want to give voluntourism a try. Travel to a destination you’ve always wanted to see and help build a well, harvest crops or teach English to the local schoolchildren. It’s a fun way to give back while seeing the world at the same time.
  • Volunteer To Gain Professional Knowledge: Working with a non-profit, serving on a board or joining a committee is a great way to share professional expertise and network with like-minded people. If you’re interested in starting a new career, this is the perfect opportunity to learn new skills and explore different fields. Whether it’s planning an event or designing something new, the work you do will help build up a resume or portfolio. Plus, having volunteer work on your resume can help you stand out among other applicants.

No matter what volunteer activities you choose, the important thing is that you spend some time giving back to your community. Your actions will benefit those around you, but you’ll also gain a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing that’s hard to beat. If you can involve family and friends in your mission, so much the better. Go out there and give good works a try — you’ll be glad you did.