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Community Involvement and Kids

10/01/2013 10:58 ● Published by Sandy Kauten

The Benefits of Giving Back to Your Community

Community involvement benefits adults, teens, and children on both a societal and personal level. It's a way for community members to strengthen their communities through the generous donation of time for a goal. Whether it's for children/peers, the elderly, the homeless, or someone affected by a catastrophe or in plain need, these acts of kindness positively impact both the giver and the recipient.   

The Benefits of Giving Back

Besides the obvious answers like, it makes you feel good and helping others is the neighborly thing to do; community involvement also benefits children on a social level. It keeps them from being bored, can help them connect with other like-minded kids and adults and develop friendships, give them a healthy break from cell phones and video games and allow them to communicate with others face-to-face, and give families the opportunity to spend quality time together. It can also help them explore career paths and develop job skills by strengthening leadership, communication and or computer proficiency. You're never too young to start networking. Relationships built with adults and peers while volunteering can be beneficial in the future.  

There are now many middle and high schools across the country requiring a minimum number of "community service" hours in order to graduate. According to a December 5, 2011 article in the Huffington Post, college admissions officers not only use volunteer service hours as part of their admissions screening process, they scrutinize the length of time an applicant has devoted to a specific cause.  In a Do Something survey, 70 percent of admissions officers "like to see a student who sticks with one cause, not one who dabbles in a laundry list of volunteer opportunities." This said, children who start volunteering at a young age have more time to explore projects and can develop a long-term commitment to a single cause. Their dedication may help them distinguish themselves from others seeking that freshman college spot.   

Just last year, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported about 64.5 million people performed some form of volunteer service through or for an organization at least once during the September 2011 to September 2012 period. As impressive as this is, it does not take into account those who volunteered independently.  Further, teens (16- to 19-years old) had a volunteer rate of 27.4%.  Also, the volunteer rate for parents with children under 18 years of age was 33.5%.   

Ways to Get Involved – Children and Parents

While it is important for children to realize they are part of a group, they should also realize that they are individuals and their single voice can make a world of difference.  Community involvement helps them learn to work as a group to affect change, speak out to champion causes, and learn to be fearless when presented with a challenge that requires an advocate.  In addition, young people who participate in community service programs are more apt to continue to volunteer their time through adulthood.

Before taking the plunge, consider individual interests and the ages of each family member. Young children are more apt to enjoy their community projects if they can play an active role. Busy schedules mean your service should be a comfortable fit for you and your family.  If volunteering creates a harried existence, it probably won’t be fun or continued without resistance over time.

Parents should look at local charities, soup kitchens, hospitals, nursing homes, libraries, political candidates and more to find suitable projects for families.  There are organizations that match potential volunteers with organizations and facilities, if you have difficulty finding one on your own, or you're looking for something new.

Many opportunities exist for young family members, but require parental supervision. A way around this may be assembling a group from a school, day care, church or private organization to supervise their own young volunteers. Thus, only a few parents or chaperones will be required for each volunteering outing.

No matter where you volunteer, be sure you know what is expected of you before you show up.  Find out if there is a minimum age requirement and let them know who will be participating and for how long you're available. Be specific and don't be afraid to ask questions.

If all else fails and you cannot find an opportunity in your community, spearhead your own.  Get a few friends, relatives or classmates together to clean up a park or playground, give a community center a facelift, or plant a garden. Or you can adopt a local nursing home, elderly family in the neighborhood or a day care facility. Not only will they learn to volunteer, but if they are involved in the planning and implementation, they will also be developing leadership and team management skills.    

Ways Teens Can Get Involved Independently

As teens get older, it's natural for them to develop interests outside of their parents' and for parents to want to break free from their chauffeuring duties. Many schools, especially those requiring volunteer service to fulfill graduation requirements, have done the legwork for students. They have contacted local organizations and have paved the way for community involvement, in most cases for group or individual participation independent of parents. If your teen's school is looking for funding for a community service idea Truehero.org accepts proposals and awards the top 15 projects, which are selected through campaigning over the course of the current July through June school year, a share of the $25,000 in grant money.

If your teen is in search of a volunteer opportunity, encourage him or her to begin their search online at Unitedway.org or Allforgood.org. Organizations like DoSomething.org make searching for local charities or community activities easy. Teens and adults can narrow their search by category, location and duration; while allowing teens to interact with each other through forums, video, and more. Questions can be answered, and experiences can be shared. If your teen is a visionary with an idea, he or she can apply to win a weekly $500 grant to kick-off their own program!  

When your teen opts to get involved with his or her own volunteer opportunity, it doesn't have to be something far removed from his or her existing interests. If your child is a baton twirler, volunteering to coach newbie twirlers or ready a gym for local competitions could be a good fit. A soccer player could work with a P.A.L. (Police Athletic League) groups to help young players develop their skills. Or a teen with superior debate skills might enjoy working with a political candidate, lawyer or law service.  Keep in mind that when volunteering to work with children background checks, special training classes, or close monitoring may be required.

Community involvement allows children and teens the opportunity to meet other civic minded individuals, people that may or may not be from their social, economic or racial/ethnic/religious circle.  Volunteering can therefore open up discussions between different groups and teach tolerance and acceptance.

Parents and teachers can introduce their children and students to volunteerism by modeling this giving lifestyle, despite their busy schedules.  Educating children to not be egocentric is a useful life skill.  Learning to stand behind their convictions, to recognize a need and take action and to work as part of a team are abilities that have short- and long-term advantages. Community involvement is the perfect gift; one that benefits both parties on many levels.  Find your family's ideal volunteer match today. 

By Kim Green-Spangler

Teens & Tweens, Parenting, In Print, Today, Today children teens volunteer community service helping values teaaching donation
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