Before the recent palate cleanser of humane, humble speeches from both winners and losers, kids have digested a pretty unwholesome diet of politics over the past several months. Many of our children entered this election season with scant understanding of government, and too many have come away from it with little more than memories than a lot of grown-ups fighting about emails, money, walls, and some lady in a purple dress.
What I wish our kids would have gotten a little more of from sitting on the sidelines of this high-profile election is the idea that these coiffed, powerful, argumentative adults are vying not just for the privilege to rule, but also to serve—to make life better for people. I recently took my boys to the JFK Memorial Library in Boston, and while exhibits about the Cuban Missile Crisis and the allure of pillbox hats went over their heads, a clip of Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address caused them to linger: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” If only quotes like this, and not crotch-grabbing, dominated headlines a half-century later.
Most of us—and our kids—are feeling either letdown or energized or both by the election results. But rather than let feelings fizzle with media coverage, I’m hoping to parlay our new (and renewed) family-wide interest in civic life into a more serious commitment to helping others. I know we’re not the only ones who spend an unhealthy portion of our weekends on the trail of missing mouthguards or new free apps. The thing is, activities and downtime don’t have to come at the expense of a small act or two of public service a few times a month. Like most positive changes, it just takes a little research and planning.
As recently as five years ago, it was hard to find opportunities to volunteer with children under 14 or so outside of schools and churches. But more and more organizations and websites are cropping up that match families with jobs big and small, from delivering blankets to shelters to delivering a prescription to an unwell neighbor once a week. A great time and place to start: Saturday, November 19, which is Family Volunteer Day, sponsored by GenerationOn and Disney. You can even share your good acts on the website for a chance to win a $500 gift card for holiday shopping of a “family-night-out” package.
Click on the following links for general family volunteering ideas or to connect with organizations who could use a hand (even small ones). Through VolunteerMatch.org, we’re set to rake leaves for some senior neighbors on the 19th. After the past month, the fresh air will be a relief.
Family Volunteer Day website. While the site is designed to spread the word about Family Volunteer Day on Nov. 19th, you can find ideas for helping out year-round. There’s a section about DIY projects at home, like making an “Upcycle” Piggy Bank, or you can enter your zip code to find events where parents and kids can lend their time.
Volunteer Match Think of it as a dating site for families and organizations that need help. You can enter your location, zip code, and how many people you have in your crew, and filter volunteer jobs by all sorts of criteria, including the interests (animals? arts?) and ages of the volunteers (there’s a special “kids” section).
Doing Good Together This non-profit has gained traction in New York, Boston, Seattle, Baltimore, and others, and is growing. To become one of their “Big-Hearted Families,” you can pick a monthly (or more frequent) creative, engaging, at-home project from a long list on their website, or subscribe to a newsletter advertising local family-friendly volunteer jobs through the site.