January 17 2017
City Living with Kids/Family/Happiness/Living in Brooklyn

Volunteering with a Little Kid

I pontificated recently about that beautiful small amount of time that we are allotted to live in the innocent bubble of our children’s childhoods.  It is a place where we are free to entertain crazy ideas about the world.  Ideas like anything is possible.  Or like helping other people is an unequivocally good idea, one that no good-hearted person would ever be against.  Or, when you are sick you should be able to go to a doctor, no matter how much money you have or what company you work for.  We can think about morality, right and wrong in stark black and white terms, unhindered by cynicism or depressing realities.

That is what it means to be a child.

As I watch my children grow, I am conscious of harnessing their natural kindness and empathy so that it can become a lifelong thread.  Like starting little ballerinas at the age of four, goodness is a natural strength in children and something worth strengthening and preserving.  Thus for months I searched for ways to volunteer with my older son so that he could begin to get little tastes of the satisfying feeling that comes from putting good into the world.

Finding a place to volunteer with a little kid sounds like something that should be easy.  But in reality, I found it anything but.

My quest began with the ubiquitous drawn-out, useless, brain-sucking internet search.  Yes, there were millions of stories on the topic.  But ultimately, the vast majority were only appropriate for teenagers and up.  One of the few useful things I found were those outdoor related opportunities – civic sweeps, park events and such.  We volunteered to help put down mulch at a nearby park last spring.  It was nice.  Kids got a sticker.  Not earth shattering, but it was something.

Then this year, a cataclysmic event took place.

The truth about Santa Claus was heart-breakingly revealed.  And to our surprise, it came as a terrible blow to my son, who was not yet ready to part with this bit of magic.  Trying to alleviate his sadness, we talked a great deal about how the magic of Christmas is very real. How there is a goodness and kindness and a spirit of helping others that is the real power behind that holiday magic. We told him that that is why we all really love Santa, and that we can actually be the ones who spread that spirit.  With that, my search for volunteer opportunities took on a new urgency.

I really wanted to do something in our community.

I knew there was a food pantry that my church runs, but there was no easy way to find information – no email address, no website.  For whatever reason, whatever character flaw, this small obstacle rendered it an immediate dead end for me.  In a comical twist of irony, I am a publicist who can’t stand picking up the phone. But, thankfully, the universe intervened when I needed to meet with the pastor at our church so I could get a form signed for my husband to be my nephew’s confirmation sponsor.  I asked the priest about the food pantry.  That was all I needed to do.

We were invited to just come and set up, or to stay and help hand out the food, if we wished. It is a modest operation, but truly lovely.  Last weekend my son was finally able to stay for the distribution and it was wonderful.  He really wanted to man one of the tables – so the juice station became his domain.  He had fun organizing the juices and handing them out and he chatted politely with every person who came by. Without question some of the people that come to the food pantry do so for that small bit of social interaction.  It was immensely satisfying to see my son, only 9, chirpingly attending to that need.

Children want to please. They want to make others happy.

We walked home as it gently snowed and my son was on cloud nine.  The people running the food pantry fawned on him, gave him candy, complimented him, which children love.  But mostly he felt proud for helping, for doing something good. It turned out to be the perfect place for us to volunteer together.

We were not out working with traumatized refugees or rebuilding houses after a natural disaster.  But this small act of volunteering ignited that little fire in my 9 year old son, that desire to make a difference, to do good.  It is a small thing.  But small things grow through the years into bigger things.  If the experience of volunteering, in whatever which way he can, informs his thinking as he grows, even if he doesn’t realize it, I will have done my job.

Finding volunteer opportunities for small kids really requires some legwork.

We still keep our ears open for opportunities.   It’s not like volunteering as an adult or a teen.  You need to think about your own community, ask around, make suggestions and improvise.  School, parent groups, religious institutions and other local organizations are the places to reach out to.   It helps if you’re not a phone-averse like me.

I follow all our local shelters on social media because they do sometimes make call outs for help packing up supplies, etc., which anyone can do.  We follow our local parks as well because there is a place for those outdoor volunteering events.  My son is a Cub Scout, so some opportunities and ideas often materialize through our excellently run troop.

Our children are being raised in a world where “slacktivism” casts a negative shadow.  Teaching my kids to step out of their comfort zone to do a little work for the greater good is something I would very much like to accomplish.

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  • It’s hard to find opportunities, especially for younger kids. My daughter’s Daisy troop leaders have had trouble finding folks who would accommodate the group, and ultimately they sang at a nursing home.

    One thing our church did was have a meal-packing event for Stop Hunger Now. It was an inter-generational event, but even my then 5 year old could help.

    • Yes, I have really noticed that for the most part, the opportunities for kids under 12 or 14 are those one-off community events. And of course there are more of those kinds of events during the holidays…

  • You are setting such a beautiful example to your kids. Volunteering and helping others are great ways to develop character. I’m not sure if this helps but I know some animal shelters allow kids age 9 and up to socialize the animals. That could be a fun project. 🙂

    • Helping at an animal shelter was exactly one of the types of opportunities I searched for. It seemed like something that would not be too emotionally taxing and not have such age restrictions. I wasn’t able to find any near us, but if I found one, I would definitely hop on it. My son would absolutely love that. Thank you so much for commenting! -Linda

  • I’m glad you found an opportunity and it sounds like it was a great one at that. I’m sure your son left with his heart filled with that special joy giving provides.’

    I second the animal shelter, but it sounds like you’ve checked that out already. We have a local shelter that let my kids help (with my assistance) when they were younger (8 and 10). We had to go through an orientation together and sign a waiver.

    More recently, we’ve helped provide and serve meals at the homeless shelter – this is one of our all time favorite places to volunteer!

    • We have a nearby women’s shelter that I work with sometimes – I have lots of free samples of beauty products lying around my office from past clients, or products that are discontinued because the packaging changed. I send them to the director at the shelter every so often. I asked her if there were any volunteer opportunities, but alas, she said not for kids. I am not sure where the nearest homeless shelter is, but for some reason that didn’t feel like the right thread for me. I think a homeless shelter in an urban environment might be too much for my little one. I know there is a soup kitchen not too far away where you can help set the table in the morning without having to take a class or anything, so that is one of the leads on my list. NY Cares is am amazing organization that offers a million opportunities in NYC. But you have to go through a whole orientation and most opportunities are teens and up. Thank you for the great suggestions Amanda!

  • This is so wonderful that you are teaching him this now!

    I don’t have kids, so I’m not sure about all the health and safety concerns to think about, but could your son maybe ‘create’ opportunities to do good?

    How about a lemonade stand or shovel snow and give the proceeds to his favorite charity? What about him organizing a group of kids to go spend time at a senior center or nursing home? What about he gets his friends together to try to make animal toys or presents for homeless shelters?

    How about a group of kids giving ‘free hugs’? Here is a fun video. This guy started the campaign, but then people all over the world started doing it and making videos. I’ve definitely seen a few young kids in the various videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr3x_RRJdd4

    • All great suggestions. The kids on my street often do lemonade stands on stoop sale days, and then donate the money to some charity. I do love that. We have a nursing home nearby that we go Christmas caroling out with my son’s Cub Scout troop – I have seen how the young faces brighten the older ones. It is something I would really love to delve deeper in – there is no existing program. Maybe I can ask our troop leader if there is something else we can do there. I know that one of the ladies that runs our food pantry also does bingo there – she is probably another person to ask. All good leads. Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply…

  • I love that you gave your son this opportunity!! We help with a similar program at our church, where my 10 year old son usually serves as doorman for outgoing customers carrying bags of groceries. Our three girls, who are older, help usher guests through the food line. It is immensely gratifying for all of us to be able to make a difference in the world in this way!

    • Hi Laurie – thank you for commenting! Yes, it is very much the same thing, sounds like. Perfect for a younger kid. I had never volunteered in a food pantry before this and it has been a wonderful and eye opening experience. I really believe that the community, the interaction is half of what these people need. As a society this is a problem we must tackle. Isolation among the elderly – it is heartbreaking. Isolation in general.

  • Sounds like a great opportunity for you and your son.

    Our children have been involved in helping during school events, working with younger kids during PTA events. Also volunteering as a coach for sports is another great way to get involved. My oldest son helped with football and lacrosse for a number of years.

  • It’s awesome that you were able to find an opportunity that worked. I’ve been thinking about what volunteering we can start doing with our kids; at 6, 4, and 4 it seems like there aren’t a ton of options that jump out.

    Your post inspired me though to dig deeper – we can certainly find something if we work at it hard enough. Maybe we’ll ask our pastor if he’s got any ideas 🙂

  • What a great experience for your son! Good for you for guiding him towards volunteerism.

    You might want to check out New York Cares. I just took a look at their site and it says they have some family friendly activities. I used to volunteer at a Brooklyn animal shelter through them.

    • NY Cares is great – they do have a zillion opportunities. But you have to do their whole orientation, which I kept missing, and I wasn’t able to really find anything in my neighborhood through them. But when we are ready for bigger opportunities, NY Cares is an amazing organization for sure. But it is a spot on suggestion, thank you Mrs. Groovy!

    1. Mrs. Groovy 10:49pm 18 January - 2017 - Reply

      What a great experience for your son! Good for you for guiding him towards volunteerism.

      You might want to check out New York Cares. I just took a look at their site and it says they have some family friendly activities. I used to volunteer at a Brooklyn animal shelter through them.

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:44am 19 January - 2017 - Reply

        NY Cares is great – they do have a zillion opportunities. But you have to do their whole orientation, which I kept missing, and I wasn’t able to really find anything in my neighborhood through them. But when we are ready for bigger opportunities, NY Cares is an amazing organization for sure. But it is a spot on suggestion, thank you Mrs. Groovy!

    2. Chris @ Keep Thrifty 05:54pm 18 January - 2017 - Reply

      It’s awesome that you were able to find an opportunity that worked. I’ve been thinking about what volunteering we can start doing with our kids; at 6, 4, and 4 it seems like there aren’t a ton of options that jump out.

      Your post inspired me though to dig deeper – we can certainly find something if we work at it hard enough. Maybe we’ll ask our pastor if he’s got any ideas 🙂

      • Brooklyn Bread 07:48pm 18 January - 2017 - Reply

        Exactly- it’s not obvious with small kids. You have to improvise a bit. Your church is likely the lowest hanging fruit…

    3. Brian @ Debt Discipline 02:54pm 18 January - 2017 - Reply

      Sounds like a great opportunity for you and your son.

      Our children have been involved in helping during school events, working with younger kids during PTA events. Also volunteering as a coach for sports is another great way to get involved. My oldest son helped with football and lacrosse for a number of years.

      • Brooklyn Bread 03:50pm 18 January - 2017 - Reply

        That’s a great suggestion, Brian. I hadn’t actually thought about sports at all. My son might still be slightly young to help with sports, but not far from it…

    4. Laurie @thefrugalfarmer 10:27am 18 January - 2017 - Reply

      I love that you gave your son this opportunity!! We help with a similar program at our church, where my 10 year old son usually serves as doorman for outgoing customers carrying bags of groceries. Our three girls, who are older, help usher guests through the food line. It is immensely gratifying for all of us to be able to make a difference in the world in this way!

      • Brooklyn Bread 10:55am 18 January - 2017 - Reply

        Hi Laurie – thank you for commenting! Yes, it is very much the same thing, sounds like. Perfect for a younger kid. I had never volunteered in a food pantry before this and it has been a wonderful and eye opening experience. I really believe that the community, the interaction is half of what these people need. As a society this is a problem we must tackle. Isolation among the elderly – it is heartbreaking. Isolation in general.

    5. Primal Prosperity 10:40pm 17 January - 2017 - Reply

      This is so wonderful that you are teaching him this now!

      I don’t have kids, so I’m not sure about all the health and safety concerns to think about, but could your son maybe ‘create’ opportunities to do good?

      How about a lemonade stand or shovel snow and give the proceeds to his favorite charity? What about him organizing a group of kids to go spend time at a senior center or nursing home? What about he gets his friends together to try to make animal toys or presents for homeless shelters?

      How about a group of kids giving ‘free hugs’? Here is a fun video. This guy started the campaign, but then people all over the world started doing it and making videos. I’ve definitely seen a few young kids in the various videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr3x_RRJdd4

      • Brooklyn Bread 08:55am 18 January - 2017 - Reply

        All great suggestions. The kids on my street often do lemonade stands on stoop sale days, and then donate the money to some charity. I do love that. We have a nursing home nearby that we go Christmas caroling out with my son’s Cub Scout troop – I have seen how the young faces brighten the older ones. It is something I would really love to delve deeper in – there is no existing program. Maybe I can ask our troop leader if there is something else we can do there. I know that one of the ladies that runs our food pantry also does bingo there – she is probably another person to ask. All good leads. Thank you so much for this thoughtful reply…

    6. Amanda @ centsiblyrich 09:57pm 17 January - 2017 - Reply

      I’m glad you found an opportunity and it sounds like it was a great one at that. I’m sure your son left with his heart filled with that special joy giving provides.’

      I second the animal shelter, but it sounds like you’ve checked that out already. We have a local shelter that let my kids help (with my assistance) when they were younger (8 and 10). We had to go through an orientation together and sign a waiver.

      More recently, we’ve helped provide and serve meals at the homeless shelter – this is one of our all time favorite places to volunteer!

      • Brooklyn Bread 09:00am 18 January - 2017 - Reply

        We have a nearby women’s shelter that I work with sometimes – I have lots of free samples of beauty products lying around my office from past clients, or products that are discontinued because the packaging changed. I send them to the director at the shelter every so often. I asked her if there were any volunteer opportunities, but alas, she said not for kids. I am not sure where the nearest homeless shelter is, but for some reason that didn’t feel like the right thread for me. I think a homeless shelter in an urban environment might be too much for my little one. I know there is a soup kitchen not too far away where you can help set the table in the morning without having to take a class or anything, so that is one of the leads on my list. NY Cares is am amazing organization that offers a million opportunities in NYC. But you have to go through a whole orientation and most opportunities are teens and up. Thank you for the great suggestions Amanda!

    7. Mrs. Picky Pincher 03:31pm 17 January - 2017 - Reply

      You are setting such a beautiful example to your kids. Volunteering and helping others are great ways to develop character. I’m not sure if this helps but I know some animal shelters allow kids age 9 and up to socialize the animals. That could be a fun project. 🙂

      • Brooklyn Bread 03:40pm 17 January - 2017 - Reply

        Helping at an animal shelter was exactly one of the types of opportunities I searched for. It seemed like something that would not be too emotionally taxing and not have such age restrictions. I wasn’t able to find any near us, but if I found one, I would definitely hop on it. My son would absolutely love that. Thank you so much for commenting! -Linda

    8. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe 02:57pm 17 January - 2017 - Reply

      It’s hard to find opportunities, especially for younger kids. My daughter’s Daisy troop leaders have had trouble finding folks who would accommodate the group, and ultimately they sang at a nursing home.

      One thing our church did was have a meal-packing event for Stop Hunger Now. It was an inter-generational event, but even my then 5 year old could help.

      • Brooklyn Bread 03:14pm 17 January - 2017 - Reply

        Yes, I have really noticed that for the most part, the opportunities for kids under 12 or 14 are those one-off community events. And of course there are more of those kinds of events during the holidays…

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