Getting Started: Let the Kids Choose the Cause
Charity shouldn’t seem like a chore – it’s meant to be joyous, as in something you want to do. The key? Let the kids choose a few causes that interest them, even if the ideas are as general as pets, school lunches or having warm winter clothing. (The same applies to adults looking for a good cause to support on their own.) Once you’ve found something to be passionate about, it’s a lot easier to make a meaningful, rewarding decision about who – and how – to help.
The site DoSomething.org, geared toward teens, has loads of project ideas that older children and teenagers may enjoy. These include hosting a dog wash to benefit an animal shelter or adding bee-friendly plants to an environment. One previous campaign, Teens for Jeans, became a huge movement to collect jeans for those in need. Do Something is bound to inspire at least a few ideas.
Finding the Right Group to Help
Once you have a few potential ideas for types of projects your family wants to do, it’s time to find out where (or how) to put those plans into action. If you aren’t familiar with opportunities in your community, visit VolunteerMatch.org. Type in your zip code to pull up a list of nearby organizations seeking volunteers for all sorts of projects. Some may want help serving meals; others may need crafters to knit blankets or make dog toys from old T-shirts.
Your pet may even be able to get in on the action as some assisted living and elder care facilities have pet-therapy programs. Families bring their pets in to give a little joy boost to those who could use one. Another fun family opportunity is Hashtag Lunchbag, a global movement to help feed and encourage the homeless. Your family could even be the first to start a local chapter of this social-media fueled effort.
Do Your Own Thing
Doing good for others doesn’t have to mean serving soup at a shelter or participating in a pre-organized community cleanup effort. This year, start your own projects to benefit those in your community; you just may inspire others around you to get in on the action. Here are a few epic ways to make an impact on your world:
1. Start a Food or Clothing Drive
Collect non-perishable food items or warm clothing – including socks – for those less fortunate. To get started, first call around to find a local group that will accept whatever you collect. Shelters for homeless teens or emergency family shelters are good places to start. Food pantries and places that serve free meals to those in need are also good ideas. Ask local businesses and even places of worship if you could place a collection box inside. If so, label the box so it’s clear what you’re collecting and who will benefit. Check the boxes every week or so, then drop them off at your chosen charity location. Create the Good offers loads of tips for planning a successful drive; Move for Hunger has tips as well.
2. Plant the Giving Seeds
Mother Nature needs some love too, which is why you should consider opting outdoors to make a difference in the environment. For those of you close to the ocean, consider looking at Volunteer Clean Up or Ocean Conservancy to see if there are any clean ups near you, or organize one yourself! As a Carbon Neutral company, we might be a little biased but our favorite way to volunteer is by planting trees and treading lightly on our planet. National Arbor Day Foundation offers a great set of guidelines for planning your tree-planting event.
3. Host a Give-Back Birthday or Party
Theme your next kids’ birthday or party as a giving-back event. Host a “donate stuff” party for My Stuff Bags, which donates bags of personal goodies to children rescued from homes due to dangerous living conditions. Instead of receiving birthday cards, hold a card-creation party. Party guests make cards for children spending a birthday or holiday in the hospital. The Confetti Foundation hosts birthday parties for children in hospitals and will accept the cards, as well as supplies.
4. Start an “Out With the Old, In With the New” Tradition
Many of us, children included, have far more items than we really need. Ring in the new year (or set your own special date) with a new tradition: an “out with the old, in with the new” weekend. Encourage everyone to collect items they haven’t used in six months or a year, such as clothing, toys or sporting equipment in good shape. Donate the items to an appropriate non-profit in your town.
5. Give the Gift of Reading Materials
Give the gift of reading materials by donating kids’ books to Books for Life, which will give them to kids who may not have books of their own.
6. Make Toys for Shelter Animals
Even T-shirts that aren’t nice enough to donate elsewhere can be up-cycled into something useful. Tear them into strips and braid them into dog toys for dogs at your local shelter. A similar T-shirt strip toy can be made for cats. Here’s a step-by-step tutorial on how to make t-shirt toys.
7. Spend Time at a Senior Center or Nursing Home
Older adults and young children enjoy spending time with one another. Call a local senior center or nursing home to arrange a visit. The kids can take part in craft time, read their favorite stories or perform a brief play for a senior audience. Older children may offer to spend time at a senior center to teach adults how to use smart phones or tablets, or how to set up social media accounts.
8. Practice Random Acts of Kindness
Kindness doesn’t have to cost anything; it can be as simple as sharing a smile with a stranger or holding a door open for another person. Encourage the kids and adults in the family to practice acts of kindness every day. Share your experiences over meal time. Ask the kids about what sort of impact the kind acts had on their own feelings. The Random Acts of Kindness site offers loads of ideas for inspiration.
9. Remember to Help Beyond the Holidays
Many people think about giving back in November and December – the traditional season of giving. But even more help is needed during other times of the year. Soup kitchens in particular are overrun with volunteers during the holiday season.
Instead, volunteer or donate goods during other times when your help can have a huge impact. Shelters need socks and warm clothing all winter long. Kids relying on free school lunches could really use a nutritional boost during the summer, when schools are closed. Encourage a family discussion weekly or monthly about what you can do as a group to benefit the greater good – including outdoor projects. It could even mean a trip to the beach to help clean up the environment.
The kids just may become excited enough to inspire their friends to come up with projects of their own. Congratulations, you’ve started something amazingly beautiful.