Yes, you can volunteer as a family in Austin! And I’m going to tell you how. First, understand what you’re up against.
For most nonprofits, training and hosting volunteers can be more work than its worth sometimes. Most volunteers will need some support and guidance, plus they’ll want to be thanked and have a great experience. These things don’t happen by themselves.
Second, most kids… well, volunteering isn’t the funnest thing to do in the world to do. So when they show up they can exhibit signs of boredom, distraction and maybe even rudeness. If they’re little, they might not be much help at all, bless their little hearts.
That being said, kids can make great volunteers. In fact, kids are volunteering all over the city as we speak — through church groups and youth groups, scouts and clubs, organizations like Little Helping Hands and Legacy of Giving.
As Marissa Vogel, founder of Little Helping Hands, explains it, the problem is not that nonprofits are inherently opposed to kid volunteers; they just don’t know how to use them, or don’t have the manpower to supervise them. But I believe in you. You CAN make this happen! Here are some tips for creating, managing and enjoying volunteering projects with your family.
1. GET SOME TRAINING
So you stepped up to lead the volunteers from your school or organization? Great! You don’t have to feel like you’re making it up as you go. I highly recommend the FREE training offered by Hands on Central Texas called “Volunteer Project Leader Training.”
The Volunteer Project Leader Training is a course that helps transform casual volunteers into active community leaders by equipping participants with the leadership skills and tools they need to make meaningful and lasting change in their communities. Hundreds of people from middle school students to professional volunteer leaders have benefited from this training. And the next opportunity is AUG 20, 2-4:30 p.m. at United Way of Greater Austin. Here’s more information and how to sign up.
2. MAKE SOME CALLS
Want to have a great volunteer experience? Don’t just show up – make a call first! Let them know you’re bringing children before you go (remember, some nonprofits won’t allow volunteers under 16 years old).
3. SHOW UP WITH A GREAT ATTITUDE
Don’t be that family. I’ve seen a large group of volunteers get ready to work and noticed a few who would rather be anywhere but where they were. Those people suck the energy and positivity from the room. Make sure your kids are excited, fed and well rested. Maybe show up with matching T-shirts… make it fun!
4. GET CRACKIN’
Here’s a list of ideas for your next family volunteer project.
- Weed and mulch a park or nature trail with Keep Austin Beautiful or Austin Parks Foundation.
- Create birthday cards for a nearby senior center.
- Shelve books at an elementary school library.
- Pack food and load delivery trucks to take out to homeless people with Mobile Loaves & Fishes.
- Distribute info packets for Colin’s Hope, an organization that promotes water safety awareness.
- Set up a lemonade stand and donate the proceeds to a favorite organization.
- Participate in a family night and sort donated food at the Capital Area Food Bank (for kids 8 and up).
- Help clean up the landscape at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden or even a local elementary school or church.
- Plant a vegetable garden and share the food with others.
- Surprise a neighbor with treats.
- Collect books for Bookspring, which distributes them to underserved children.
- Sign up for a meal delivery route with Meals on Wheels.
- Sign up at a local church that participates in the Interfaith Hospitality Network, where church’s host homeless families. They always need other families to cook meals and keep homeless families – and especially the children – company.
5. MAKE SURE KIDS FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT
You can explain to them why their help is important without frightening or depressing them. Just make sure they feel appreciated, even if the organization doesn’t. One or two opportunities like this, where they can feel proud and useful in service to others, and you’ll likely have them hooked for life.