Volunteering with the kids can be one of the most rewarding things you'll do this holiday season. And finding volunteer opportunities close to home is just a mouse click way.
by Kathy Sena
While the holidays may inspire thoughts of volunteering your family's time to help others, your ever-expanding to-do list may keep you from actually checking the newspaper for volunteer opportunities or picking up the phone. But don't wait until next year. Right now, there are dozens of kid-friendly volunteer opportunities available — right near your home.
When I visited the Web site for VolunteerMatch (www.volunteermatch.org), a national non-profit organization, I simply typed in my ZIP code, chose how far I was willing to travel, and found a whopping 427 volunteer opportunities — all within 10 miles of my front door. Volunteers in my home town can read stories to homeless children in a family housing shelter, raise funds for wildlife conservation, deliver hot meals to house-bound seniors, create encouraging cards for people with life-threatening illnesses (something even younger children can help with) and much more.
Interested? Just sign-up, via e-mail, on the spot. (Non-profit organizations who wish to list volunteer opportunities can simply go to the "post" section of the site to register.) VolunteerMatch offers a huge database of volunteer opportunities, with listings from approximately 74,000 national, regional and local organizations.
As a result, the site has amassed a matchmaking record that would make even Cupid a little envious: The service, which is free to both volunteers and organizations, was first launched in 1998. To date, more than 5,065,000 matches have been made between volunteers and non-profit organizations nationwide.
The site is a piece of cake to use. And because organizations can post their needs at a moment's notice, enthusiastic volunteers can be identified quickly — often the same day. No computer? No excuse. The nice folks at VolunteerMatch will be glad to help you find your perfect match. Call 415-241-6868. (Sorry, there's no toll-free number available.)
HOW TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP
According to VolunteerMatch president Deborah Dinkelacker, the organization started as a simple philanthropic idea to connect volunteers with charities. "Now the Web site is a viable tool for assisting anyone or anything — disaster victims, children in need, the hungry, endangered animals, the environment — that benefits from the services of volunteers," she says.
"Our goal is to make it easier for people to volunteer," Dinkelacker adds. Whether you and your family have an hour this afternoon or a full day every week to volunteer, "there's an organization that can benefit from your help."
FOR GREAT FAMILY VOLUNTEERING IDEAS AND MORE...
PBS and its popular kids' show, "Zoom," have also gotten into the volunteering act with their "Zoom Into Action" program (www.pbskids.org/zoom/activities/action). Log on for volunteering tips for kids and a special "Share Your Story" feature where kids can describe their volunteer experiences and log their volunteer hours.
Check out additional family-friendly volunteer opportunities at these Web sites:
° Kids' Planet (www.kidsplanet.org) — Click on "Defend It" on the home page followed by "Fundraise It" to help raise money to help protect the environment.
° Kids Next Door (www.hud.gov/kids/hthsplsh.html) — For volunteer activities to help the homeless.
° Kids Can Make a Difference (www.kidscanmakeadifference.org) — To help end poverty and hunger.
° Meals on Wheels (www.mowaa.org) — To help bring hot meals to seniors. (Children are welcome to accompany their parents in making deliveries and spreading cheer.)
MAKE THE HOLIDAYS MORE MEANINGFUL
Sign up now, and your family will quickly learn, in a positive way, how to keep the season's craziness in perspective. And your kids will have learned a great deal about the power — and the pleasure — of giving. There's no better way to teach a child that the gift of his time, and his heart, is one that will be most welcome — in any season.
— Kathy Sena is a freelance journalist and the mother of a 14-year-old son. Visit her parenting blog at www.parenttalktoday.com.
Tips For Volunteering Wisely
The USA Freedom Corps Volunteer Network (http://freedomcorps.us) along with parents who have successfully volunteered with their kids, suggest the following tips for a more successful volunteer experience for you and your family:
° Think about the causes or issues that are important to you. Your family might already be giving money to an organization that is important to you, and that might be a good place to begin your volunteer experience.
° Consider the skills your family has to offer. Some positions require volunteers who have previous familiarity with certain equipment, for example. Are your kids old enough to take on the challenges of the volunteer position you're considering?
° Combine your goals. Look for volunteer opportunities that will also help your family achieve your other goals. For example, if you want to stay fit, pick an active volunteer opportunity, such as cleaning a park. Or, for families with older kids, try volunteering at a food bank that teaches cooking skills.
° Don't over-commit. Make sure the volunteer hours you want to give fit into your hectic life, so that you don't frustrate your family, exhaust yourself or shortchange the organization you're trying to help.
Volunteering in Fredericksburg
Looking for ways to promote volunteerism within your family? Visit the website for our local Rappahannock United Way for Volunteer Services at www.RappahannockUnitedWay.org.
Click on the volunteer page or call Shelby Beck at 540-373-0041. Shelby can help connect you to a program or can work with you to create a new program to help within the community. What a giving way to start the New Year!