The first time I took my son to volunteer, he was just a few months old. We went with other moms and children to a local nursing home as part of a “Hug a Tot” program. The residents seemed to enjoy the children and the joy on their faces warmed my heart. Since then, I have tried to find opportunities for my family to serve together. Sometimes we serve in an organized capacity, but often the children tag along with whatever my husband and I are doing. We can usually find a way for them to help.
I hope these shared experiences will strengthen our family bond and help my children develop a heart for others.
Volunteering with small kids can seem very overwhelming, and there are some seasons in life where it’s just not possible. (Don’t be discouraged if this is the season you are in — you are already modeling a heart of service by taking care of your family.) Fortunately, there are some ways that you can get involved with even the smallest members of your family. In fact, you may already be doing some of these things.
Here are just a few suggestions for volunteering with kids:
1. Adopt a grandparent.
Some nursing home residents don’t have any visitors, so a family can “adopt” a resident to visit. This is a great opportunity for babies, preschoolers, and school-aged children to participate. With the holidays approaching, there will also be many chances to provide the residents with needed items that they may not receive otherwise.
2. Provide a meal.
Whether cooking for a new mom, sick friend or neighbor, or delivering food to a stranger in need, providing a meal makes such an impact. If preparing a meal at home, children can help with shopping and assembling. If cooking isn’t happening, meals can be ordered from a favorite restaurant. If you are interested in a more regular commitment, there are many local organizations in need of drivers to deliver meals to homebound individuals in our community. Mobile Meals has routes in every zip code in Knox County and children may enjoy riding along to help drop off items. If preparing or delivering food won’t work with your family’s schedule, there are always opportunities to donate items to local organizations like The Love Kitchen, which will provide a hot meal to those in need.
3. Beautify a yard or building.
Schools, churches, and other buildings often need beautification, which can involve planting flowers, pulling weeds, painting, cleaning, or other tasks. Children can bring their own mini garden tools to help with scooping dirt or pulling weeds. Kids can help plant flowers for a neighbor, or older children can assist with raking leaves or other yard work in a neighborhood or school. They can also help pick produce for a community or neighborhood garden.
4. Prepare Thanksgiving baskets.
Many churches provide Thanksgiving baskets to local families in need. Knox Area Rescue Ministries (KARM) facilitates Baskets of Hope each year. This is a wonderful opportunity to involve children and to discuss thankfulness. Children can help fill the baskets with needed items or families can volunteer to stuff multiple baskets as part of an organized collection.
5. Sponsor a child, senior, or family.
As we approach the holidays, there are many opportunities to provide gifts for children, seniors, or families locally through churches, Salvation Army Angel Tree or Silver Bells programs, and other organizations. Even younger children can help pick and shop for gifts for other children their age. For a more ongoing commitment, families can sponsor a child or family overseas.
6. Honor a veteran.
Veteran’s Day is November 11 and is a great opportunity to thank someone who served our country. Children can write thank-you letters to veterans or think of other ways to support troops. The letters can go to a family member, church friend, neighbor, or any service member the family knows. Families can also attend the Knoxville Veterans Day Parade or greet veterans returning from Honor Air flights throughout the year.
7. Help the homeless.
Knoxville Area Rescue Ministry (KARM) has volunteer opportunities for children 13 and older.
8. Walk together.
There are many local charity races/walks throughout the year, which can be an opportunity for families to spend time together, exercise, and support a great cause. Many of the races have one mile fun run/walk options for participants of all ages. Older children can walk while babies ride in a stroller or carrier.
9. Help Furry Friends.
Shelters always need items for animals awaiting adoption. Providing some of these items can be a great way for families to help. The Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley has a “Reading Team” which is recommended for children under the age of 12. Volunteers read books to animals to help calm them down. A parent must be present. There are other volunteer opportunities, too.