By Leah Madof, Generation SERVE Houston
April is Volunteer Appreciation Month! Several adults will be lauded for their efforts in volunteering to help various nonprofits. But did you know that children are just as capable of making a difference in their communities? Generation SERVE was founded in 2009 by an Austin mom who set out to show that even very young children are capable of helping others! In the fall of 2019, Generation SERVE opened in Houston with a mission to engage children from ages 3 to 18 in volunteering and empowering them to make a difference. We provide over 35 family volunteer activities a month to involve children as young as three in volunteer service! It is our vision that, if we can get children volunteering from a young age, they will continue on a service pathway throughout their lives and become our future volunteers and community leaders.
So, what are some ways we can get children involved AND excited about volunteering and helping others?
- Make Volunteering a Regular Part of Your Family’s Schedule
Maybe you volunteer every Saturday morning, or maybe you volunteer once/month on the last Sunday of the month? Whatever way you choose to serve, make volunteering a regular part of your family life. Children crave schedules and routines. So, knowing that volunteering is something that you do together as a family makes it more likely they will continue to serve as they age into teens and eventually into adults.
- Give Choices
Giving choices allows children to feel empowered and become a leader. On our Houston calendar, you can find 35+ different volunteering opportunities to help our many nonprofit partners serving different community needs, from helping other kids, taking care of our environment, caring for animals, helping the food insecure or those experiencing homelessness, and much more. You can share the calendar with your children and allow them to select how they would like to serve their community. Giving children choices and letting them decide what they would like to do makes it more fun, helps them learn what matters to them, and develops passions! When kids decide how they want to help, service is much more interesting and exciting and gives them something to look forward to attending.
- Give Small Tasks that Still Make a Big Impact
There are so many ways that even a child as young as three can participate in a volunteer activity. Make sure to assign tasks to your child that he or she will enjoy and can feel successful about. For example, if you are making a card for seniors at a senior care facility, put out different craft materials like stamps and paint pens that will allow them to show their creativity. The finished product does not always have to be perfect; it just has to have heart.
- Put Education First
At Generation SERVE, we make every volunteering activity an opportunity to learn in an age-appropriate way about our community needs and how we can help. It is important that our kids understand why a volunteer project is being done in the first place and who it will help. At Generation SERVE, we provide families with educational resources and helpful materials to help parents initiate conversations with their children about who they are helping and why. This can be in the form of a picture book with a younger child, watching a short video, or providing talking points. We also provide service learning programming for kids and teens. Children who can learn to care and empathize with those they are helping will be more likely to want to continue to help.
- Make Volunteering a Family Affair
Volunteering as a family makes the time even more special. This can be a regular time when phones and work get put to the side and special family time serving others can be enjoyed together. Volunteering also helps develop important skills such as empathy, respect, kindness, leadership and patience. By volunteering together as a family, parents serve as a model for their children who grow up more likely to volunteer as they age into adulthood.
Generation SERVE works together with several nonprofit partners throughout Houston to help put children on a path to become community-minded leaders. We have our regular volunteer calendar here, which is updated every month with new and recurring volunteer activities as well as summer programs for both younger children and teens. We keep track of all service hours for our volunteers and are certified to award Presidential Service Awards. We also provide service learning about community needs and leadership education through our Teen Advisory Council and Summer Teen Leadership Academy for teens ages 13 and up, Project Mentee for youth ages 8 through 12, and a Little Helpers Learn and Play program for our youngest volunteers ages 3-5. You can learn more about us at generationservehtx.org.
We look forward to growing in Houston and seeing more children become involved with community efforts to strengthen our city. We hope your family will join us this summer for family volunteering and service learning! We look forward to volunteering with you!