Volunteering is a great alternative expensive summer camps. The memories made are just as long lasting. Aside from doing a good deed, volunteering can build self-esteem and reduce the desire to complain or engage in risky behavior.
While there are many benefits from a parent’s point of view, kids who volunteer often do so out of altruism. Given the opportunity and the outlet, they really want to help make the world a better place. But just like you would not sign your sports loving son up for a month of ballet or pottery, you need to take the interests and personality of your child into account when choosing a volunteer opportunity.
Consider the following avenues, or do a quick search on the Volunteer Match website to find a place for your child to use their talents. Volunteering could spark a career interest and lead to important connections in the future.
- Hospitals and nursing homes – Local hospitals and nursing homes often need help. Both types of facilities also tend to have a volunteer coordinator who can help place your child in a role that they will enjoy. Teens between the ages of 14 and 18 can help stock supplies, transport patients with a nurse and bring books to patients in a hospital. In a nursing home, activity directors often appreciate help with projects, parties and playing cards with residents. Help in the office or dining room can be another area where kids can make a difference. Two of my children spent a lot of time simply listening to residents in a nearby nursing home share stories one summer.
- Animal centered volunteer opportunities – A horse arena in my area trains youth volunteers on a regular basis to assist handicapped children with their riding therapy sessions. Kids can help in animal shelters or see if they can help with training puppies for the blind.
- Gardening opportunities – Food banks often have their own garden plots to maintain. Speak to the director to see if they would be interested in extra help. If there isn’t a garden designated, encourage your child to grow and donate produce to a local food bank. In Detroit, there is a group of children and adults who work with Blight Busters in an effort to clean up and beautify the city.
- Libraries – For the right child, volunteering in the library can be the perfect match. Starting as young as eleven kids can volunteer to be a children’s program assistant, computer center helper or be a part of the Young Adult Advisory Council.
- Museums and aquariums – If your child loves to visit the museum or aquarium, they may want to spend more of their summer lending a hand. Opportunities vary between museums so call the ones you are interested in to see if volunteering is a possibility for your child.
- Camp – You do not have to completely write off camp. Growing up my summers involved going away to camp, but I wasn’t just playing the games I was helping run the activities as a volunteer camp counselor. Girl Scout day camps and 4H overnight camps were my main volunteer roles, but there are also camps for disabled youth where your child might enjoy being a helper and many others. Junior camp counselors often attend for free in exchange for the work performed which in my opinion is just as fun!
Whether your child signs up to work a regular shift or not, it is important to show kids that they can actually make a difference in the world. Sometimes all it takes is knowing that they can make a difference for them to start dreaming up ways to make their mark.