Volunteering, or the newer term, “community engagement,” is about aligning your passion with a social need to create change. At what age should your child begin volunteering? “Stephen’s Backpacks” began when a five-year-old heard there were children who had no home. Sutton Garner co-founded “I Can for Kids” at 11 years old when she learned that over the summer months, many children go hungry. One years old is never too young to begin practicing kindness.
There are many benefits a child receives when they volunteer:
Volunteering improves mood. As humans, we are hard-wired to give. It makes us feel good to help others. The social contact aspect of volunteering and working with others helps develop a solid support system, which counteracts the effects of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Volunteering improves self-esteem and raises confidence. Volunteering is about doing good things for others. And when we do good for others, we have a sense of accomplishment. This makes us feel empowered that we are capable and gives room to ask ourselves, ‘What else could I do?’
Volunteering increases social skills. For those who find it difficult to meet new people, volunteering with a group of like-minded individuals offers a platform to meet and make friends more comfortably.
Volunteering provides experience. Every volunteer role offers the learning of a new skill or the practicing of what we already know. These new experiences help our children explore what they may want to do as a career. It also gives them the skills that would be used in a work environment; it supports the building of their resume.
Volunteering reduces at-risk behavior. When youth are spending their time involved with positive activities, they are less likely to experiment with alcohol and drugs.
The benefits of youth volunteering are not solely for the young. Community is richer when our children get involved. Volunteering increases empathy and the understanding that we are not alone. It connects us to one another. It connects us to the bigger picture, creating a gentler, kinder society.
Today, there are many opportunities for youth to participate in meaningful ways and youth volunteerism is on the rise. Volunteer Canada states that 53 percent of youth (ages 15 to 19) are engaged. Sports, recreational programs, and social services are popular areas of youth involvement.
Finding the right volunteer role is important.
When volunteering, youth are looking for flexibility in their role. They want their experience to be meaningful and relevant. They want to know they are making an impact. They want to know what the significance of their position is and how it supports the organization as a whole. And they want to have fun! The experience must be enjoyable for them.
There are two types of volunteering: informal and formal. Informal volunteering is episodic, such as raking a neighbor’s leaves or helping with an annual event. Formal volunteering usually requires orientation and training within an organization. For example, mentoring younger children or fostering service dogs are formal roles. The commitment of time is longer in a formal volunteer role. Informal roles can be transferred into formal roles. For example, a volunteer opportunity to play the piano at asenior’s retirement community could change from playing once at an event (informal) to playing weekly at a specific time (formal). The time one has available to volunteer is a large barrier to getting involved and, thus, 82 percent of volunteers prefer an informal role.
Have a conversation to explore what your child’s passion is and what commitment they wish to give. Help them understand what they want in their volunteer role to ensure they find a rewarding and fulfilling experience.
There are many ways to participate in community. Churches and schools offer Leadership Clubs as an extracurricular activity. Rotary Interact is a service club for youth ages 12 to 18. Community newsletters list help needed in your own area.
To assist your child in finding the right volunteer experience, check out the following websites which offer community experiences for youth:
Children who volunteer at a young age are twice as likely to volunteer as adults. Getting involved can be as simple and flexible as needed. Encourage your children to explore different ways to participate until they find a cause that matches their passion!
Janica of h!p (Humanity In Practice) connects people to causes by promoting purposeful acts of kindness. Their passion is volunteering, and they believe that all of us can make a difference, regardless of age or circumstance.
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