How children can make a difference through community service

By Beverly Stewart, M.Ed.

In today’s tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to teach children about the impact they can have as a volunteer.

To get started, ask yourself these three questions:

What is my child’s passion? Books? Sports? Animals? There are community service options to address absolutely every interest. From walk-a-thons, to beach clean-ups, to performing at local senior centers, finding the right match is crucial to help your child develop a love of serving others.

What are my child’s abilities? Enthusiastic children sometimes overcommit, so it’s up to you to set limits and select an age-level and skill-level appropriate project. Choose too simple a project and your child will become bored — too hard a project and he will become discouraged. Also, many organizations have age requirements, so it’s always best to check before embarking on a new community service venture.

What is my time commitment? Start slow. Let your child pick a project and finish it. The sense of accomplishment he will experience is worth the effort (even if you still have holiday errands to run).

Locally, there are many places for kids to volunteer their time and talents. One is sure to inspire your child! Here are a few wonderful local organizations that are kid-friendly:

Brandywine Zoo, The Zoo Crew (ages 13-17)

For the animal lover, the Brandywine Zoo gives teens an inside look at how zoos approach wildlife conservation and how one person really can make a difference! Some of the activities that Zoo Crew members participate in include Biofact Interpretation, Interactive Displays, and Special Events. At age 16, Zoo Crew members may be eligible to begin animal handling training! http://www.brandywinezoo.org

Delaware State Parks (all ages)

For the child who loves the great outdoors, Delaware’s Division of Parks and Recreation has an ongoing need for volunteers to protect and conserve Delaware’s natural lands, waters, and wildlife. Volunteer opportunities include keeping grounds beautiful through gardening and maintenance. http://www.destateparks.com/volunteers/

Food Bank of Delaware (ages 8+)

The Food Bank of Delaware provides low- and no-cost food to qualified feeding programs throughout the greater Delaware region and children are encouraged to participate. Minimum ages vary by task, but volunteers must be at least eight years old, as well as accompanied by an adult. http://www.fbd.org

In addition to the opportunities listed above, there are also quite a few volunteer-organization matching services which outline the mission of various non-profit organizations, the length of volunteer commitment, specific duties, and any requirements or restrictions. Here are a few sites that provide the detailed information you need to choose just the right program for your child:

Above all, make the experience of volunteering enjoyable. If you help your child choose well, he will begin to see volunteering — not as a chore — but as the chance to do something he loves.

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