Have you always thought of volunteering as something for the individual? Well think again. Family volunteering has long been recognized as a worthwhile pass time in the USA. It has even featured in shows such as World’s Strictest Parents – where errant teens are taken to work in thrift stores and homeless centres – the ultimate goal being that by helping those less fortunate they will value their own families more.
Breeding a Selfish Nation
Once upon a time most children went to Scouts, Cubs, Brownies or Girl Guides. These organisations helped instil in us a sense of right and wrong and a sense of responsibility towards other people and the environment. I remember the Brownie motto was “A brownie thinks of others before herself and does a good turn every day.” Sounds silly? Well maybe, but I have grown up with belief that I should help others if I can and have done a variety of voluntary work, which has often been rewarding and fun. My biggest regret is that although I have set my children a good example, I haven’t actually involved them more in voluntary projects. I worry that we are breeding a generation who are mostly concerned for themselves and have little compassion and empathy for those less fortunate than themselves.
Breaking the Cycle
The good news is that volunteering for families doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. More and more organizations in the UK are offering opportunities for families to volunteer together, and these activities range from outside conservation projects, volunteering holidays, sponsored walks, to litter picking on a beach.
There is a lot to be gained from volunteering as a family. Benefits include:
1) Having fun — yes volunteering can and should be fun!
2) Bonding – working on projects together is a way to bring the family closer. It also builds shared memories.
3) Friendship – meeting other families and building friendships.
4) Getting out of the house – we all know how hard it can be to prise kids of their phone, the PlayStation or away from the TV or Facebook – volunteering is a great way to do it.
5) Being active – if you choose a conservation or outside project, or even an activity like a sponsored walk or cycle ride the health benefits can be immense, and children who participate in physical activity with their families are more likely to keep them up in the long-term.
6) Learning first-hand about the environment – actually getting involved in gardening or conservation means much more than reading about it in a book.
7) Appreciating your own circumstances – when children see that other people have less fortunate lives they value their own families more.
8) Meeting people of all ages and from all walks of life – this is invaluable – especially these days when we tend to live in small insular family units. Your children will learn to interact with a variety of people.
9) Learning empathy and compassion – caring about others is an invaluable life skill and will make your child kinder more rounded individual.
How do I get involved?
Sam Wright is a freelance writer specialising in the voluntary sector.