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Today's Family Magazine

Family Volunteerism

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

By Kimberly Blaker

Volunteering is a great way for families to make a difference in their communities and offers lots of benefits to those who volunteer their time and skills.  First and foremost, nothing is more rewarding than knowing you've made a difference in the lives of others.  What's more, volunteering raises kids' sense of civic responsibility, makes for an excellent family bonding experience, and provides valuable skill building and socialization opportunities for kids and adults alike.

Regardless of where you live, countless volunteer opportunities are available – and there's something to fit every family's talents and interests.  So share these ideas with your kids to see what triggers their enthusiasm.  Then make a family plan to put it into action.

Volunteer at a soup kitchen or food pantry.  The poor and homeless are always in need of nutritious food and meals.  Search online for local soup kitchens and food pantries.  Then call and speak to the manager, and offer your family's service.  Be sure to mention the age of your children in case there are age restrictions.  At a soup kitchen, you can help prepare and serve a meal or do kitchen cleanup.  For a food pantry, help with stocking or putting together food baskets for families in need.  Some pantries also need delivery assistance since many poor families don't have transportation to pickup their food supply. Editor's note:  The Greater Cleveland Food Bank can be reached at 216-738-2265 or visit their website at

Help out at an animal shelter.  Cats and dogs spend days, weeks, and often longer cooped up in small kennels or crates with little opportunity to exercise or socialize.  Offer to spend an afternoon walking dogs or playing with cats.  Other things you can do for a shelter include transporting a pet to a new home, cleaning kennels, donating supplies, or helping find loving homes through social media.

Adopt a road or park for cleanup. Most states have adopt-a-highway programs.  These typically require a signed contract for a period of two to four years with a promise to clean up a designated area two to four times a year.  Alternatively, you could pick an unsightly city street and just head out to clean up the debris.  Keep kids safe by requiring them to stay off the road and picking up litter only on the boulevard.  If you have younger kids, park cleanup is a safer option.

Paint a park bench.  Benches are found in parks as well as shopping districts and along bus routes. Contact your city hall or parks and recreation department, and request permission to freshen up a bench.  If your family is artistic, ask if you may do something creative to make it more cheerful.

Help build a house with Habitat for Humanity.  This organization helps build and renovate homes for families in need of safe shelter.  Visit to find your local Habitat organization, and ask how you can help.  Habitat also offers a teen volunteer program.

Send letters to military members overseas.  Veterans, new recruits, and deployed troops deserve and need to know just how much we appreciate their dedication and service to our country.  For more information, visit

Hold a coat, blanket, and backpack drive for the homeless.  Homelessness exists in every community throughout the country whether visible or not.  Destitute individuals are always in need of warm coats and blankets as well as something to easily carry their bare necessities in.  Coordinate with a local homeless shelter, and set up several drop off locations throughout your community.  Then create and pass out fliers in your neighborhood. You can also post fliers on grocery      store and laundromat bulletin boards, share them on social media, and email family and friends asking them to help spread the word.

Help an elderly person by running errands.  Do you know an elderly person who doesn't drive or own a vehicle?  Offer to transport them to do their errands and grocery shopping.  If it's too difficult for the elderly person to go out, you could offer to do the errands for them.

Put together care kits for homeless shelters.  Ask local businesses to donate items for the homeless care kits you plan to create.  The following are useful items to include in each kit: toothpaste, tooth brush, dental floss, a comb, bar of soap, shampoo, a package of hand wipes, razor, shaving cream, protein bars, and other small useful items.  Any food items should be nonperishable and require no preparation.

Help someone who's visually impaired.  Search online for your local organization for the visually impaired and offer your help.  An impaired person may need assistance with cleaning, cooking, yard work, or errands.  You can also ask the organization about other ways you can help.

Offer your service to a domestic violence shelter.  Coordinate with a local women's shelter to hold a clothing and toy drive.  Or put together arts and crafts kits, and spend an afternoon teaching craft workshop for children at the shelter.  Childcare is also often needed for working mothers staying at these shelters.

Hold a bake sale for a charity.  Pick your favorite charity, and hold a bake sale to raise funds for it.  Ask a busy local business or grocery store if you can set up a table on a given day for your charity bake sale.  Then invite family and friends to pitch in and help with the baking.

Plant seeds or greenery along a highway or main street.  Check with your city first.  Then contact management at local nurseries, and ask them to donate plants or seeds for the project.  Plant only native flowers, shrubs, and trees that won't require watering or maintenance.

Rake, mow or remove snow for a disabled person.  If you don't know anyone in your community who's disabled, ask coworkers or friends if they know of anyone.  Or do an online search for disability organizations in your area.  Then reach out, and offer your service.

Foster a homeless animal.  Animal rescues are always in need of families to foster homeless pets while awaiting permanent placement.  Do a search online for pet rescues and animal shelters.  If your family has a favorite breed, look for a breed specific rescue in your area.

Perform for children in a hospital.  Countless children suffer from diseases which require lengthy and sometimes indefinite hospital stays. If your family's got talent, what better way to put it to good use?  Search for a children's hospital or wing in your area and arrange a date to perform for the kids.  You could put on funny skits, perform magic, dance, play music, or do acrobats.