How well do your kids know your neighborhood and city? You may take them to the Minnesota Zoo or to Longfellow Gardens-but have they ever visited the Union Gospel Mission or taken a trip to a nearby animal shelter?
The Twin Cities area offers plentiful opportunities to community volunteers. Whether you work a few hours at a soup kitchen or regularly donate to another local cause, you’ll find many organizations in need of your service. Most local societies are happy to receive adult volunteers.
But adults often forget how generous children are. Sometimes parents and teachers are so busy going over homework or running to sporting events that they forget to teach community service. Once kids experience the fun of giving and helping, they often continue serving their community as adults.
If you’ve always wanted to involve your children in service projects, start small. Here are a few fun ideas you can try now.
- Sell Cupcakes for Charity
Most kids love to help make cupcakes (or frost them and add sprinkles). Regardless of your child’s age, let him or her help you prepare cupcakes in some way. For example, if you plan to donate to a breast cancer organization, you can use pink sprinkles or outline the shape of a ribbon by using pink M&Ms.
Once you have a few dozen treats, walk with children through your neighborhood, telling residents that you’ve made cupcakes for a particular charity. Most people are only too happy to donate 25 or 50 cents per cupcake. Then, your children can help you tally the donations and take them to a local charity in person (or donate online).
- Donate Garden Goods
If you grow your own garden-even if it’s only several tomato plants on your balcony-you can teach young children to share the bounty with others. Fill small plastic bags with extra zucchini or a few cherry tomatoes, and donate them to a neighbor who just lost a job, or to a community or church function as a fresh relish tray.
- Treat Those Who Serve You
If your children are small, plan a day to give back to service personnel in your area. If the weather is particularly hot, serve your neighborhood garbage collector a popsicle or cool glass of homemade lemonade.
This concept also works nicely for those who deliver your mail or sweep and shovel roads. It can make a busy driver’s day to receive a handmade card from a five-year old. And your children will love offering a cup of hot chocolate to your landlord or plumber on a dreary winter day.
- Volunteer With a Church Group
If you belong to a local congregation and it regularly participates in community outreach projects, involve your kids whenever possible. If you’re cleaning the church grounds, give your child his or her own small garbage sack and pair of worker’s gloves. Likewise, if you’re helping deliver meals to a shut-in, let your child carry a few food items when you go to the door.
If your church sponsors a children’s group, offer to chaperone during a trip to a senior living facility where the children may sing songs or present residents with a small handmade gift.
- Work at a Food Shelter
Some local shelters allow families to serve meals. If so, give each child a specific task. One might help you fill or re-fill water glasses. Another can help you wipe down each table before serving or take away empty plates. One child can be a runner who informs adults when a food item runs low.
If your local food pantry or soup kitchen doesn’t need servers, ask if you can donate funds or actual food items. Your child may agree to give a bake sale or lemonade stand’s proceeds to a food pantry. These funds help pantry workers purchase needed food items when inventory is low.
- Remember Animal Shelters
Most kids love animals. If your child wants to donate to an animal shelter, consider helping him or her create a few easy chew toys from old denim jeans or colorful fleece scraps knotted together. Or, make handmade cards together that you can sell. Use proceeds to help animal shelters purchase dog food or other supplies.
If neighbors need help walking dogs during vacation, ask for a one-time donation that your child will give to the local animal rescue association. Then, set up a routine for your child to follow. This task works best for older children or those who know how to handle pets.
- Show Kindness
It’s not difficult to teach children to show kindness in your community. Opportunities lie everywhere-at your grocery store, on the sports field, at school, at the Laundromat, and just about any other place.
Help your child create some simple pass-along cards that say things like “Thanks for your smile,” “We appreciate you,” or “Thank you for being so helpful.” Carry these with you to give to a kind grocery bagger, favorite teacher, or helpful store clerk.
You never know what creative and fun service opportunities lie beyond the lemonade stand! Help your child get more involved in the community by volunteering today.