Once you decide to volunteer, figuring out what it looks like is the next step. If you missed it, there are tips on that in my last blog. Ok, you've figured out how much time you have and you are ready to jump in. But what does it really look like? Here's a glimpse at how volunteering has looked in our family over the years.
As a family, we do A LOT. As an individual, I do A LOT (more on my activities next week). I do not want to downplay the commitments to these organizations, my family, or myself. Remember last week, I discussed the importance of considering the phase of life you are in at the moment. You have to find the right pace for your family. Derrick and I intentionally built our lives around volunteering because we realized it was a priority during our marriage preparations. We saw so many examples of life pulling couples apart; we wanted something that was going to pull us together. Additionally, the number of volunteers in organizations we volunteered with was usually disappointing. For us, volunteering as a couple and a family was the answer. We thought, if we raise our children with an expectation to give back to their community, they would become adults who looked for ways to give back to their community. Our oldest is 19, let's check in when he is 25 to see if our approach worked.
For years, I (we) volunteered and served on the board for our local neighborhood association. I intentionally participated in the Family Activities Committee to ensure there were activities for my children to enjoy and we were able to serve as a family. It was a great way to give back together and for my children to understand the hard work behind community events. They were there gardening, baking cookies for a cookie decorating table, setting up tables for events, stuffing Easter Eggs or wrapping gifts. While the season for this volunteer opportunity ended as other organizations took priority, it was great while it lasted. We have several memories, experiences, new skills and pictures to enjoy. It is healthy to move on from opportunities that no longer fit on your calendar without feeling guilty! No one can do it all.
With various homeschool or extra curricular groups, we have volunteered at day care centers, assisted living facilities and libraries. Activities include everything from giving speeches and playing games to reading books and doing art projects. We have participated in park clean up days, service days at schools or other nonprofit organizations to clean up, paint or build. There really is such a depth and breadth to the number of opportunities to use your skills and talents (or develop new ones) to engage with others. It is fulfilling for all involved. Some of these events were one-time events, others a season, and others reoccurred for years. Only you know how long a volunteer effort should last for your family.
Last year we started providing a meal monthly for Hotel Hope, an organization which supports homeless mothers and their children. The entire family is involved. Several kids assist with cooking a portion of the meal. There is usually an assembly line filling, labeling and bagging the plates. The food safety skills we learned years ago in 4-H have been put to good use. With a little food preparation etiquette, this is a family friendly activity. Another consideration, we do not have pets. There is no chance of pet dander being on our bags and getting transferred to the hotel.
Through my work in the Junior League of New Orleans, I learned about the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP). This organization was created to support formerly incarcerated young people transitioning back to community and has expanded to support young people in poverty, out of school or work or those who have experienced trauma. When I have time for a local drop off, this is my go to organization. There is a thrift store used to train and financially support their program. Quarterly as a family, we go through our clothes and household belongings to see if there are items no longer needed or used. Anything broken or with holes or stains, we discard, and we donate the rest. I am always surprised at how much we have to give.
We help friends and family members with requests on an as needed basis. From helping people move or complete household projects to bringing food to grieving families or those
welcoming new babies, as a family, we serve. For about a year, we offered a babysitting open house for friends with young children. We provided dinner and activities from 5-10PM once a month to enable parents a date night or quiet evening at home sans children. Now that our youngest is two, it might be time to revisit that activity.
Here are a few national or international options that we have experience with:
Vietnam Veterans of America: When life is too crazy for a drop off donation, this is my go to organization. Their website is super easy to navigate and donating could not be easier. You select a date, leave the merchandise boxed or bagged on your porch and by the end of the day, it is gone! With your help, I'd like to create a video of our giving impact. Regardless of the organization you donate to, take a picture or video to be included in our project. This link provides details on how to participate.
For several years, a group of families met to box items for children around the world. Everyone had fun picking out items, stuffing the boxes with a variety of items ranging from school supplies to personal hygiene items and toys. Some families let the children pick out their favorite toys or stocking stuffers for the boxes. Other times each family had a theme, you purchase crayons, we'll get the coloring books, another family will get hair accessories. There are multiple ways to organize such an event.
While it can be harder to shift your mindset after you have been married a while and the children have established routines, it is still possible to change course. In case you need a reminder, you do not have to volunteer permanently with an organization. It should fit into your schedule without adding undue stress to your life. Annually, it is wonderful to assess how you are spending your resources to decide if you should recommit or move on to another opportunity. Our desire is to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Regardless of our phase of life, we always have something to share- time, talent, or treasure. How do or will you help? We'd love to hear and see how your family volunteers. Leave comments below or pictures on our social media sites. #JLNO, #HotelHope, #operationchristmaschild, #VVA, #YEPNOLA, #4HatHome, #Volunteer