4 min read

BY LAURIE ANN THOMPSON

The holidays cause many of us to think harder about how we might help those in our communities who may be less fortunate than we are. This hits especially close to home for those of us who are parents, and we often want to find ways to include our children in our charitable endeavors. This can be a bit tricky, since many places have age restrictions on their volunteer positions. Fortunately, there are many ways for people of all ages to make a difference in their communities and around the world. Here are some ideas that can be adapted to a variety of different age groups and interests.

  1. Collect money. Gather funds to support a cause by placing collection cans in stores, having coin drives at school, participating in a fundraising walk or run, etc. Kids (and/or their parents) can also create a page on a crowdfunding website like gofundme.com. Remember, others may be in a more giving spirit this time of year, too, so efforts like these may be even more successful around the holidays. Friends and family can be great sources of support for these kinds of activities, and they’re often even more willing to donate to a cause being championed by children they adore!
  2. Collect goods. Organize ways for people to donate goods to things like food drives, donation bins in retail outlets, warm winter clothing collections, toy and gift distribution, etc. Most nonprofits maintain a wish list of needed items. Or, kids can go the other direction by finding a cause that can use their own excess goods. For example, kids can send extra candy to an organization like Operation Shoebox, which sends care packages to U.S. troops stationed overseas.
  3. Volunteer. Check with local organizations, the nearest United Way, and VolunteerMatch to find appropriate organized volunteer opportunities for your family. There are more people looking for volunteer opportunities this time of year, but there is also more demand. If you don’t find a good fit there, however, don’t give up! With a little creativity you can easily make your own opportunities. Anyone can pick up trash at their local park or beach, many retirement homes welcome young performers, some animal shelters will allow the public to come in and socialize the animals, or perhaps an elderly neighbor would appreciate some help shoveling the driveway. The possibilities are endless, and the gift of time is often the most appreciated of all!
  4. Make something. Many young people enjoy making things they can then donate or sell. Can they knit? Hats or scarves for the homeless are much appreciated. Almost anyone can make no-sew fringe-tie fleece blankets, which are great for animal shelters and child services organizations. Younger children can draw or paint greeting cards to deliver to shelters, hospitals, or other care facilities. (This can be a great way to keep kids busy during those winter breaks from school, too!)
  5. Donate gifts. Anyone in the family can request that donations be made to a favorite charity in lieu of some or all of their presents. Families can quickly and easily collect a significant amount of money or goods while also spreading awareness for their chosen cause. It’s a win-win!
  6. Choose gifts wisely. When selecting gifts for others, think about what might really make the best impact all around. Would your child’s teacher rather get another “#1 Teacher” mug or a donation in their name to DonorsChoose, which lets them select a meaningful education project they personally wish to support? Does that person on your list who has everything really need another knick-knack, or would they get more excited about an opportunity to make a micro-loan on Kiva? Would mom prefer yet another wool sweater or an Oxfam donation of a sheep, which will allow a poor family to acquire an ongoing source of income? I know our family is constantly fighting the accumulation of clutter in our house, and a donation to a cause we are passionate about is much more appreciated than yet another physical object for us to deal with.
  7. Reach out.Is there a group in your community that might feel marginalized or wonder if they are truly welcome there? Make contact and let them know you and your family value their presence and the diversity they add to your community. Sometimes a simple, “We’re glad you’re here!” letter, email, phone call, or personal visit can be just the thing to brighten their day. Consider religious offices, ethnic organizations, cultural centers, etc.
  8. Read! Obviously, reading can provide kids with facts and practical knowledge. But studies have also shown that reading also builds empathy, an essential element for our future. Whatever kids (or adults!) choose to read, they’re sure to be expanding their world views, analyzing new ideas, and growing as human beings. And reading together as a family allows you to discuss those big ideas together, extending the lessons even further and building deeper personal connections, for parents as well as kids! So, when you’re not out there saving the world, make sure to take the time to enjoy a good book.

Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters, is loaded with advice, hands-on exercises, and examples for middle-school or high-school kids who want to take these ideas further, plus profiles of young people who already have.


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