As we wait in the car under the overpass for the light to turn green, my 10-year-old daughter spots a man with a backpack at his feet and a flimsy cardboard sign in his hand that reads: “Will work for food.” From the backseat, my daughter says, “He’s hungry, Mama. What can we do to help?” It’s an opportunity to teach her the importance helping others.
In the past, I’ve bought lunch or offered a few dollars or water to the men and women camping out on the street. These small gestures can prove vital for those individuals and set an example of giving to those less fortunate. But what if you want a more hands-on approach to teach your children about gratitude and volunteerism? Here are several local organizations that welcome children volunteers.
FAMILIES GIVING BACK
When families make volunteerism a group effort, children are more likely to respond. With Valleywide Families Giving Back, children can assemble art kits for kids who are ill at local hospitals or put together backpacks for students in Arizona’s Head Start program. Kids as young as 2 can volunteer with an adult. 602-421-7909 or familiesgivingback.org.
FEED MY STARVING CHILDREN
When my daughter first showed an interest in volunteering, we drove down to Mesa to volunteer for this Christian nonprofit. Dried food is separated into bins. Volunteers fill, weigh and seal the bags according to instructions. My daughter loved collaborating with other children and adults, knowing the meals they assembled would feed so many people around the world. Later that evening, when we were eating dinner, she made a special point of announcing her gratitude for her warm meal. Children 5 and older can volunteer. An adult must accompany kids under age 18. 480-626-1970 or fmcs.org.
Older kids often enjoy peer interaction when volunteering. This Chandler nonprofit is dedicated to providing free, comprehensive programs to empower youth. Kids as young as 15 can experience how their efforts make a difference by volunteering to help youth with homework, arts and crafts, sports and special events. 480-821-4207 or icanaz.org.
THE SOCIETY OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL
During the Christmas holidays two years ago, my daughter and I had the opportunity to help in the dining room of this local Valleywide charity, serving dinner and presents to adults and children. The good news is you don’t have to wait until the end of the year to volunteer. The Hearts and Hands program allows kids to make greeting cards, assemble hygiene care packs and create dining room centerpieces. Kids age 9 and older, with an adult, are welcome to serve meals. 602-261-6886 or stvincentdepaul.net.
UNITED FOOD BANK
Volunteerism is a lifelong endeavor and it is easier to corral kids to offer help when they are young. As they get older, social activities and academic concerns take much of their time, but continuing a focus of giving back becomes easier at this Mesa food bank, where teens ages 16 to 17 can pack dry goods and create food boxes for families in need. Children ages 8 to 15 can volunteer when accompanied by an adult. There’s also a Kids Club where they can volunteer with peers. 480-398-4470 or unitedfoodbank.org.