Did you know that mid-April marks National Volunteer Week here in Canada? If you want to raise kind, empathetic and generous kids and spend time with them having fun and making memories, then say hello to family volunteering! It's never too early to role-model kindness and community involvement and do something meaningful as a family. And yes, it can also be easy to slip into your busy days - we've got you covered with five simple tips to get you started, just in time for our national celebration.
Make it relevant
The easiest way to get kids on board with a new volunteering project: choose a cause that's relatable and in line with their interests. For little ones, this often means doing something for other kids or that focuses on an experience that your child values.
Do your kiddos love birthdays (trick question, who doesn’t?) Then consider, for example, The Northern Birthday Box Project which pairs families with a child in remote Northern Canada to send a box of birthday staples to. Kids will love choosing decorations, cake mix flavours and more, to ensure their Northern peer gets that same special feeling on their birthday that your little one knows so well.
Create your own
Getting out of the house can be a challenge when kids are young, which makes a self-initiated project from home a great option. Doing something on your own time and without firm commitments or deadlines can be much more convenient for life with kids whose moods, health and sleeping patterns vary daily. Plus at home, kids are in a familiar space and are comfortable to explore and discuss new ideas, while a larger group setting can be intimidating for some children.
The options when you're organizing your own initiative are limitless! With spring cleaning on the minds of parents everywhere, the classic clothing drive is a great choice. Have kids start with their own closets then recruit others to donate too. For book lovers, consider a book drive for organizations like the Children’s Book Bank or schools in need.
Kids can get involved in advertising and poster-making and build confidence and advocacy skills by approaching friends for donations. And to bring it full circle, drop off items as a family so the kids can see the impact of their hard work and the people who it will be benefiting.
In December, we put together baskets of crafting supplies for kids of newly arrived Syrian families. The casual approach (no deadlines! no pressure!), the fun hands-on work, the subject matter (we love a good crafternoon), and the chance to meet new friends all helped to make this project a win. And the focus on giving and not just getting made the holidays so much richer. (A theme here at My Kindness Calendar!)
Do a fundraiser
Another take on the at-home experience is a family fundraiser - something non-profits can sometimes help with through resources and community-engagement teams. Find an activity your kids are passionate about and turn it into fundraising. Does your kiddo love to bake? Make and sell treats for cash. An avid reader? Do a “read-a-thon” and have friends sponsor your commitment to reaching a target number of books. Pair this with an organization that the kids are interested in and you've got a recipe for a successful fundraiser.
For all the advantages of the at-home approach, sometimes, with young kids, you just NEED to get out of the house! If this is you, consider looking locally for smaller non-profits or charities. Local organizations are often run by lean teams who rely on the support of volunteers.
Despite their superhero staff, demands are high and funding low, so helping hands of all sizes may be welcome. Organizations that have a family or child-centered focus are a good place to start and may facilitate more quality family-friendly opportunities, as they’re often founded by parents who are used to working alongside kids (their own!).
With baby sleeping and my four-year old actively participating, we’ve done packing parties with Toronto’s The Period Purse, for example, who provides menstrual and health products to shelters and homeless women in Toronto. Founded by a local mom who understands the value and necessity of involving her young boys in volunteering, they host regular gatherings where people of all ages come together to pack purses full of goodies.
Get a move on
A good friend of mine has been running the CIBC Run for the Cure with her family since the kids were in strollers. I love that her little ones will have such early memories of family volunteering thanks to this annual tradition. Lots of big races are family-oriented and offer 1 km races for kids and adults to participate in. The infectious community spirit at these races imparts lasting memories. Plus the focus on healthy living that you’ll be role-modeling for your kids - double parenting win!
With these tricks in mind, we’re all set for National Volunteering Week. As a family, we’ll be organizing a street-wide garage sale. We'll focus on community, recruit neighbours, and make posters. We’ll go green as we de-clutter the house and coordinate a charity pick-up for unsold items. And we'll even throw in some fundraising with a lemonade and homemade cookie stand. I've promised the kids they can donate half of their earnings to a charity of choice and spend the other half on vintage garage sale treasures. Now this is the stuff that memories are made of.