‘Tis supposed to be the season of thankfulness and giving and love and friendship. But in reality? ‘Tis often the season of tears and tantrums and GIVE ME and NO (the NO season is ongoing in my toddler-controlled household). I think a good way to get back to thankful is to get out there and volunteer with your family.
Since high school, I’ve tried to make volunteering a regular part of my life. I have one very selfish reason: it feels good. Now that I have a kid, I want him to get that gooey-on-the-inside feeling too. He’s two right now, so volunteering efforts are less about encouraging him to do good in the world and more about minimizing the level of havoc he wreaks. But as soon as that changes, I’m hoping to make service a monthly thing. Volunteering will help my little dude learn new skills, explore the world, meet new people, and become a person worth knowing. And my hope, of course, is he’ll get the gooey too. Maybe not at first, but eventually.
If you want to give your kid great experiences and maybe a little goo, here are some family-friendly volunteering opportunities. All of these require an adult unless otherwise noted.
Family Night takes place every Thursday from 5:30 – 8:00pm. This is mostly packing and re-packing boxes of food donations, but it’s a great opportunity to give back to the community. Many of Second Harvest’s other programs are open to kids as well—just check the website for individual opportunities.
Salvation Army Red Kettle Bell Ringer (all ages)
Put those tiny little hands to work doing something they already love to do anyway—ringing bells! You and your family can make some noise at red kettles around Davidson County throughout the holiday season. The Salvation Army also allows young children to participate in their soup wagon program and to work at their Angel Tree mall booths in November. (It may be too late for this year, but there is always next year!)
Radnor Lake holds Volunteer Days on the fourth Saturday of every month (except December) from 8am-10am. Projects include exotic plant removal, mulching trails, and planting native vegetation.
A great way to teach the little ones about where food comes from and how to grow more. HON offers regular opportunities to dig, plant, water, and weed at their Urban Farm in South Nashville. They also host Crop City, a free six-week program for kids at the Farm.
Family Team volunteers (children age 10 and up, accompanied by one or more guardians) help out at special events in a variety of different areas. ZooTeens (13-17) is a much more involved 9 week summer program that includes a fee for a uniform. If you have an animal-lover at home, this might be perfect.
The Hands on Nashville website is a fantastic way to see a bunch of volunteer opportunities at once, and it turns out they’ve got a whole section of their site geared toward the young ‘uns. These events are for kids only—no adults allowed. They also have youth leadership opportunities for high school students. And if you’re just looking for a one-off event that includes the grown-ups, you can go to the homepage and search using the “Appropriate for:” filter. Can you tell I love this resource? Volunteer Match is another good one, fyi.
[Parents with kids 12 and older, you’re in luck! Most non-profits will allow your child to donate their time—some with a guardian and some without. Just call ahead to make sure.]
I know this is probably a pipe dream. There aren’t many kids who would happily/willingly give up a Saturday. Hang out with friends? No way, mom, I want to help you plant tomatoes! But at this point, while my child is saying no to literally everything else (even when seconds later he is accepting said thing quite happily), I’m going to hang on to the belief that someday…he’ll say yes. And maybe that yes will be to some gooey volunteer goodness. I mean, come on—who DOESN’T want to volunteer at the zoo?!