Who doesn't want their kids to exude empathy and selflessness? One of the best ways to encourage that is by giving them the chance to volunteer. While working at a soup kitchen or walking dogs at an animal shelter might be too hard for younger kids, there are plenty of places looking for small helpers to fill lunch bags, visit with the elderly and create decorations. Here are seven ways to give back to the community while spending quality time as a family.
Check Out Local Assisted-Living Homes
Connecting youth with people in nursing homes or assisted-living centers is a huge boost to residents, and most facilities welcome volunteers. "We pop popcorn and hand it out to the residents, and they love it as much as we do," says Alima Blackwell, a photographer who volunteers at the Elk Run Assisted Living Home in Evergreen with her six-year-old son. "Sometimes my son likes to draw pictures for them while he is waiting for the popcorn to pop, and it has been such a healing and beautiful experience for us since losing both of my grandparents in the last two years." To get involved, find out what organization is near you, or pick a place where your own older relatives might live. Call ahead to find out what they need, what you can do, and a good time to do it before bringing in the family.
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Habitat for Humanity
While kids under the age of fourteen won't be building homes, there are plenty of other things they can do. For starters, work with your little ones to make snacks, meals and beverages to take to the workers. This gives your children not only the sense of helping, but they can see how others are doing their part to make the world better, learn about what's going on, and meet those who are helped by the organization. Older kids from ages eight to thirteen can work with their parents at the warehouse to construct and paint planters for new homes. Teenagers over the age of fourteen can actually help to build the houses (with permission and a signed waiver). Contact Charlotte Thompson at CThompson@habitatmetrodenver.org to find out more about children's volunteering options and to sign up.
I Support the Girls
This international charity offers bras, underwear, menstrual products and more to people experiencing homelessness and impoverishment. The group works with volunteers of all ages to sort products and fill hygiene bags, collect goods by hosting a drive, and even deliver items. Volunteer Denver affiliate director Erin Persaud has her two kids so excited about helping, they actually argue when one gets to do more than the other. "The type of volunteer work depends on how old the kids are, and younger kids can help sort, wash and count products, and they can also come along on deliveries to the organizations," she says. "I've had teens doing drives and then setting up free menstrual products at their school or donating to local organizations." To sign up, visit the volunteering page online and fill out an interest form, or call your local chapter in Denver, Fort Collins or Colorado Springs.
Who says you have to join an official charity to volunteer? If the day is nice and you're ready to get dirty, then take your kids to your local park to pick up trash. It's easy to do, doesn't take any planning, and if there's a playground, you have the bonus of playtime after. Just make sure to wear gloves and bring bags to collect the items. You can also make your efforts official by adopting a park through Denver Parks and Recreation. To do so, contact Tina Myers at 720-865-2434 for more information, or fill out an application (download online) and mail it to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Project Angel Heart
One of the easiest ways to get your young child into volunteering without time restrictions is through Project Angel Heart, a nonprofit that delivers meals to around 1,300 people who are sick and cannot prepare food themselves. It's easy to get started. You just head to the office at 4950 Washington Street to pick up some bags, decorate them with your young ones at home and then bring them back. These cheerful and personalized bags get filled with a week's worth of freshly prepared frozen dinners, side dishes and something sweet, and are delivered to people living with cancer, AIDS, heart disease and other serious illnesses. Another way to help is by delivering the meals themselves, which you can do with your kid in tow. This requires more structure, since people need to know their meals will be delivered. But if you can commit a couple of hours a week or every two weeks, it's a perfect way to bring joy and nourishment to others.
Sack Lunches for the Homeless
What better way to spread cheer than with a sack lunch decorated by a charitable child? Take young ones with you to help fill paper bags with food for the homeless and then hand them out with Impact Locally, which meets regularly at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom, 2637 Welton Street. While you prepare sandwiches, your twelve-and-under child can decorate the bags. Knowing people will get a little something extra with their meal means a lot, both to the kids and the people receiving the bag. While the organizers do encourage children to join their family in this mission, it's probably not the best for kids under three years old, unless they really like sitting and doing art unsupervised. A $10 donation is requested per session to help pay for the food, and you can sign up online.
St. Jude Leadership Society
In part, thanks to the work of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, childhood cancer survival rates have dramatically increased, and you can help this organization's work by having your older child volunteer. The St. Jude Leadership Society is for high school students who want to learn about being a business leader, good citizen and building a personal brand while fundraising for St. Jude. Those who complete the program and raise at least $2,500 will join other students at the organization’s campus in Memphis. Each student participant has a mentor, too. This year is the first that the program has been available in Denver