Amy Merrick; excerpted from Thrivent magazine
Whatever cause they choose, community service helps kids see beyond themselves, says Betsy Debertin, a Thrivent member in Bismarck, North Dakota. "Volunteerism opens their eyes to the many needs in the world."
Debertin and her husband, Kyle, have spent most of their adult lives encouraging kids to give back. Until recently, both were full-time youth camp directors. Today, Kyle is a community engagement leader in Thrivent's Northland Region. Betsy works part time at their church and is a mom to 3-year-old twins, Milton and Oliver, and 6-year-old daughter, Berniece. "Like all young families, we're busy most of the time," Debertin says. "But service is part of the way we live."
Berniece already loves to give back, Debertin says. That means she's gaining skills she'll take with her throughout her life, says Sarah Fanslau, senior director of clubs, campaigns and days of service at generationOn, the youth division of the nonprofit Points of Light organization. "And research shows that volunteering helps kids grow up to be healthier, happier adults."
A dozen volunteer ideas
These activities are easily adaptable for various ages. Young kids will love participating with you. Older kids can take the lead and volunteer on their own or with peers or siblings.
- Visit a nursing home
Help with bingo, gather a group of friends and sing or perform a skit, or simply visit with residents.
- Organize a rummage sale or set up a lemonade stand
Let the kids choose a charity to receive the proceeds and consider doing a "parent match." If the kids raise $20, match the amount so they have $40 to donate.
- Donate gently used books or toys
Make a donation to the library, a children's hospital or a kids' shelter, for example.
- Support a local food pantry
Collect nonperishable food items. When you take them to the food shelf, offer to volunteer.
- Clean up the world around you
Gather trash bags, gloves and hand sanitizer, and pick up litter in your neighborhood or in a park.
- Look out for your neighbors
Mow or rake the lawn for an elderly neighbor; bake cookies for a busy family; or take soup to someone who isn't feeling well.
- Serve a meal at a homeless shelter
Check with a local shelter ahead of time. They may need help with food prep, serving, cleanup – or all three.
- Draw pictures or write thank-you notes
Deliver them to teachers, firefighters, police officers, faith leaders – anyone who serves others.
- Make blessing bags for the homeless
Pack up nonperishable items like socks, bottled water, granola bars and lip balm in resealable plastic bags. Keep the bags in the car and hand them out when you see people in need.
- Make gift-giving an act of charity
Instead of buying a gift for someone, bring food to a local pantry in honor of the person. Or bake cookies and deliver them to a local charity.
- Say thank you to service people overseas
Put together care packages for military personnel. Organizations like Operation Gratitude provide information on what items are needed, as well as donation instructions.
- Sign up for a fundraising walk, run or bicycle ride
Find an event that supports a cause that's meaningful to your children, like juvenile diabetes research or a fundraiser for a local animal shelter. Participating as a family can be a fun way to give back.
Make a difference in your community!
Select one of these ideas – or come up with one of your own – to teach the kids in your life that their selfless actions can make an immediate impact on the world around them.