"I don't know any parent who says, 'Yeah, I really…
Meaningful Volunteer Opportunities for Families this Summer by Wendy Gossett, MA,Ed.
Although going to the swimming pool is fun, there are only so many days even the most amphibious kid can handle. When my kids were in the third and fourth grade, I decided to take a break from all the sunscreen slathering and introduce them to their first volunteering experience. Since I am a child temperament specialist, I knew that my ten-year-old son’s personality resonated with service-oriented causes, even though he was unaware of it at the time. I also knew that my nine-year-old daughter needed to build her empathy skills, so I thought the experience of serving others would be beneficial to both of them for different reasons. Over the past several years, we have tried many different family friendly volunteering endeavors, which have taught us invaluable lessons and given us priceless memories.
Our first experience was serving lunch to the residents at the Littleton Care and Rehabilitation Center during the summer. https://littletoncare.com/ We made fancy clipboards for taking orders and created matching tie-dyed aprons for ourselves. The kids absolutely loved the feeling of taking orders and serving the residents their drinks and food and the residents were so cheered to see young enthusiastic faces. There was only a little paperwork and short orientation on my part, to qualify us as official volunteers. At the end of the summer, out of all the fun activities we did, swimming, hiking, and even going to Disneyland, my son expressed volunteering at the Rehab Center as the highlight of his summer. Not only was the serving itself fun, but in between serving, we enjoyed thinking about the residents and making crafts for them.
Another fabulous organization for volunteering as a family is The Fresh Harvest Food Bank in Highlands Ranch. http://freshharvestfoodbank.org/volunteer/
Twice a month this organization needs help packing bags with pantry staples and setting up the food bank for distribution the following morning. Volunteers are also needed for Distribution Day which happens twice a month on Saturday mornings. Greeters are needed to welcome families and assist them in receiving their bags of goodies, which may include pre-packed birthday bags for the kids if it happens to be their special day. We loved this experience! It is well organized and really taught our kids to be grateful and a little less inclined to complain about eating their veggies!
When my kids were a bit older they helped me at North Littleton Promise, which is a program that gives neighborhood kids with working parents a place to go afterschool to get help with their homework, eat a healthy meal and receive encouragement from people who care about them. My fifth-grade son was paired up with an older volunteer to work with third graders and my fourth-grade daughter and I worked with first and second graders. This is a well-organized, wonderful program if you enjoy teaching and have time for volunteering during the after school hours.
The Gathering Place downtown is a day shelter for women, children and transgender individuals. https://tgpdenver.org/about/ Denver’s only drop-in day shelter offers individuals many practical services such as child care and a quiet place for taking a nap. I learned that some of the mothers and children had been up all night riding the bus because they had no place to sleep. The Gathering Place gives them access to clothing, computers and phones so they can look for jobs or housing. In the summer, my kids helped in the nursery by reading stories and playing with the younger children. This facility has a wonderful roof top playground where my children enjoyed riding tricycles, swinging and playing alongside the day resident’s children. The Gathering Place always needs clothing donations and volunteers who will provide cookies for decorating or other fun activities for the day residents and their children.
If I had to pick a favorite out of all our experiences, the All Stars Club would probably be the winner. http://www.allstarsclub.org/pages/codeofconduct
This is an organization that gives children and young adults with special needs a fun night out where they can make new friends, feel accepted and have a place where they belong. Kids under sixteen are welcome to volunteer with a parent. Each parent/child pair is assigned a “buddy” or person with special needs. The evening consists of fun activities in the gymnasium, followed by snacks, karaoke and craft time. My daughter and I had so much fun playing ball, singing One Direction songs and coloring with our wonderful buddy, Super Susan. My daughter and I were both very inspired by Susan’s amazing, upbeat attitude toward life.
My daughter and I have opposite personalities, so it has been a struggle to find activities she and I can both enjoy together. Through volunteering we have picked raspberries at CALF, http://thecalf.org/index.html, cleaned out stalls for pigs, goats and horses at Zuma’s Horse Rescue https://zumasrescueranch.com/, packed boxes for Operation Christmas Child https://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/, served Thanksgiving meals for David Clifton Ministries https://theworldforjesus.net/ and served food at the GraceFull Café. http://gracefullcafe.com/ . Not only does volunteering give back to the community, but it has given my children a broader view of the world outside our comfortable suburban bubble.
The summer of their freshman and sophomore year, both my kids went to South Africa where they served in squatter camps outside Johannesburg. My very independent and brave daughter now wants to be a full time missionary when she graduates. I never imagined that serving meals at the rehab center in our tie-dyed aprons so long ago, would turn into my daughter’s life long calling. Summer is coming. If you want an alternative to pools and parks, try a little volunteering. At the very least, your kids might start eating their broccoli and at the very most, they might decide to change the world.