Live Responsibly: Volunteer Your TimeUpdated May 31, 2012 by Andrea
Healthy Child Healthy World is looking for ways to make green living fun for kids, so I thought I’d re-post this piece from last summer.  It’s almost a year later and my daughter still asks for her “garbage gloves” when she sees trash at the playground.  We’ll be doing our yearly pick-up this weekend – on request from the kids.

Have you ever wondered how to give back, but you’re just not sure where to start?  I do.  All the time.  But something usually comes up and I get sidetracked.  And then I just don’t start.  I do nothing.  I mean, I may help the occasional neighbor carry her groceries or give my old clothes to Good Will, but I don’t really give freely of my time in the way I’d like.  This week, Carl and I are going to figure out how to make this happen.  Consistently.

We spend our weekends on “family time overdrive”.  This is amplified when we’re both working and the weekend is the only time we have with our little ones.  Our typical Saturday starts out with swimming lessons followed by errands followed by an outing of some sort.  Then it’s supper time followed by a walk around the neighborhood.  By then we’re usually ready for an episode or two of Dora or My Little Pony just so we can sit down for 5 minutes (or do the dishes) before the bedtime routine begins.  How can we possibly add “giving back” to our list of to-dos?

We’re hopeful that perhaps giving back can become one of our Saturday activities.  Perhaps we can find something that we can do with our kids that will not only be fun and entertaining, but will also teach them the value of sharing with others.  And perhaps we can adopt this as a monthly habit – one Saturday each month.

Our Challenge

This week’s challenge will be to find a volunteer activity that we can do with the kids.  Stay with us as we research child-friendly volunteer activity options, choose an activity and then actually do that activity with 8 month old and 3 year old in tow.  Now this should be an adventure!

Oh – and if you’ve got a volunteer activity suggestion for us – please reply to this post with your suggestion – we’re on the hunt for ideas!

Updated June 17, 2011 by Andrea

Our Tale

Finding (and doing) the right volunteer activity has been a hoot. Here’s the process. If you’d rather just skip ahead and see if it worked out, please feel free to go to Our Findings now.

Finding the Right Activity

When we first sat down to brainstorm about how we could “give the gift of time” earlier this week, 2 limitations became obvious.

First, not everyone wants our baggage. Our family is a package deal on the weekends. And let’s face it – everyone wants volunteers, but not everyone wants volunteers with 2 small kids. We realized we would have to poll our resources to find some good suggestions on kid-friendly activities.

Second, we left ourselves no lead time. Perhaps if we were the advance planning type of family, we would have looked into what activities were available in our area weeks ago and then planned something for this week. But alas, we are not the advance planning type. Our list of child-friendly volunteer activities would have to be whittled down to those that can be organized and started within a week.

So, here’s the list we made for starters.

#1 Make soup for the soup kitchen
#2 Deliver meals on wheels
#3 Pick up garbage around the neighborhood
#4 Visit hospital/ nursing home (Bring the dog?)

We ruled out #1 (make soup for the soup kitchen) as our 3 year old doesn’t have the attention span to cook for more than 5 minutes just yet. And her help would be limited regardless, so in reality Carl and I would be volunteering while our daughter watched television and the baby nestled in the backpack or napped. Not ideal.

We then ruled out #2 (deliver meals on wheels) since we thought it would be too bad for the environment. Don’t get me wrong – this is still a really good thing to do – I’m not sure if the goodness outweighs the carbon emissions or not. It’s just that we just finished a challenge on reducing our carbon emissions and we are committed. (If you’re interested, please check out Drive Responsibly: Reduce Your Carbon Emissions.)

We debated biking around meals on wheels, which would actually be a really great activity, but then, could we put the meals and the kids all in the bike trailer together? All signs pointed to a potential emergency room trip (burning, anyone?), so we opted out.

So we’re left with 2 measly options? We thought we should cast a wider net. So, we reached out in our post comments, on facebook and on twitter. We asked for suggestions on child-friendly activities. No dice. No one replied.

We then decided it was on us to do a little research. We found a couple of really good sites with articles specifically on volunteering with children. Compassionate Kids has great suggestions on not only what to do, but how to approach the activity overall. Now we’re talking. Parents magazine had a “10 Ways Kids Can Help” article, which was very realistic. We revised our list based on our finds.

#1 Make soup for the soup kitchen (not enough kid involvement)
#2 Deliver meals on wheels (heavy carbon footprint)
#3 Pick up garbage around the neighborhood
#4 Visit hospital (can’t bring kids*)/ nursing home (Bring the dog?)
#5 Donate food to a pantry
#6 Walk to fight disease (none scheduled for this week)
#7 Put together activity boxes for a local hospital
#8 Care for animals

Much better. Pretty much any of these activities could work, so long as they could be coordinated within a few days.

*I called the hospital to see if we could visit with kids, but they don’t accept volunteers under 19 years of age for privacy reasons. (Apparently, they’ve had incidences where kids have told their friends about seeing another friend of theirs in the hospital and it didn’t go over well. Too bad, as I would think sick kids would love to play with other kids.)

Sign Me Up

We have options. That’s good. Now what?

As always when we don’t know what to do, we turned to Google. We googled “volunteer opportunities Saint John”. We found the Saint John Volunteer Center. We filled out a profile and downloaded the list of open opportunities. We told them which ones we thought most fitting. Now we just had to wait for them to call back and tell us what to do.

We didn’t hear for a day, so we called them. We had a brief discussion about our “baggage” (i.e. kids) and the very nice lady said she thought visiting nursing homes was likely our best bet. She thought that some of the older folks would love to see a young family in action and that the kids would bring joy and excitement into their lives. She gave us a list of nursing homes that were looking and, conveniently, one of them is about 1 km down the street.

I then called the nursing home in question and spoke with Dorothy, the lovely lady in charge of volunteer services. I told her that we wanted to help. I also told her that we couldn’t commit to more than once per month. She was SO EXCITED. I’m talking REALLY, REALLY EXCITED. Apparently, the home has a few patients that don’t have any family at all. A couple of them have had strokes and can’t speak well anymore. Dorothy thought that they would enjoy just watching the kids play. And when I (hesitantly, at first) mentioned the dog, she went through the roof. Apparently we are a very exciting family. Who knew? We left Dorothy our information so she could work with nursing to “pair us up” with the appropriate individual.

I left the conversation feeling very excited. Dorothy’s energy was contagious and it was very clear that she felt we could really make a difference in someone’s life. Plus, our kids spent plenty of time in a nursing home visiting Pop (their late great-grandfather), so I knew this could work for the kids too.

The Plan

Later that night, we decided that we would visit with our new nursing home buddy this week if we heard back from Dorothy in time. If we didn’t, we would pick up the garbage in the neighborhood. At the time, Carl had just gotten back from a walk to the mailbox and suggested that there was definitely a bit of a mess forming in the ditches.

So that was it. In the end, we resorted back to our initial list of 2 options regardless. Still, we emerged with a better understanding of possibilities for the future.

Our Findings

In the end, we didn’t have time to coordinate visiting with a nursing home, so we opted for garbage pick-up duty. Here’s how it went.


Volunteering with the kids - street clean upPicture this. A sunny day in Saint John. Two out-of-work IT professionals dressed nearly in rags toting their happy-go-lucky 8 month old around in a backpack while scouring the neighborhood ditches for recyclables. Our surly 3 year old, dressed like a princess, follows along, helpfully picking up this and that with her kitchen-gloved hands and sorting them into garbage and recycling. We’ve taught her well.

Neighbors drive by. We can see in their eyes that they are wondering if we’re trying to help or scouring the ditches for extra cash. Alright, I may be over-dramatizing here, but I couldn’t resist periodically pausing and laughing as we searched the street – and later the beach – bags in hand.

Volunteering with the kids - beach clean upWe had a great time (despite the scowl on our daughter’s face in this last picture)! And it felt great. This is something we could get used to. We will certainly continue to give. In fact, I hope that we hear back from the nursing home soon, as we’re eager to start that as well. And who knew that just cleaning up could be fun for the kids. (And even developmentally challenging – I mean – what 3 year old doesn’t like to sort?) Carl and I both agree that one Saturday a month is a totally sustainable change. We just need to remember to block it off in the calendar.

The Goodness

The world’s problems often seem too big to change. Too overwhelming to make a difference. But, that’s not actually the case. There is enough to go around. Many people spend day in and day out giving their time to others. But that’s not the only way to make a difference. Starting to give – even just once a month – also makes a difference. It helps those it’s intended to help. And it also helps infuse other volunteers with hope and energy. And it just feels good.

Volunteer Match has an excellent description of the impact of small-scale volunteering.

I also believe that volunteering with our kids could result in added goodness. Not only are we giving freely of our time, we are also teaching our children to give freely of theirs. Throughout the years, we hope that our children will gain exposure to many different health, environmental and societal causes and learn to help others in their own ways. If we can foster positivity and activism in our children, there really is a chance for tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what they do!



Interested in our other challenges?  Check out The Goodness Challenge.

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About the Author

Just a small town mom trying to make the world a better place for my kids. One small change at a time.

5 Responses to Live Responsibly: Give The Gift Of Time

  1. Andrea says:

    We’ve started our research on volunteering with kids. Here’s a great site we found ( If you have any suggestions for us, please comment or email us.

  2. Julie says:

    Andrea, There’s an organization here in Portland called Friends of Trees, and you can volunteer to go into various parks and neighborhoods to plant small trees that have been donated to the organization. They focus on restoring ecosystems near water ways, etc. I wonder if there’s anything similar in your area? It’s great for kids too. There are also lots of local organizations here that plant food gardens to feed the homeless and hungry. These might be good options for kids.

    • Andrea says:

      Julie, thanks so much for your comments. Those are really good suggestions. I didn’t think of planting as an option, but you’re absolutely right, our daughter loves to plant things (and especially to water them). I’ll look into whether there are local options for tree planting – or maybe an organized day of tree planting sometime this summer? And we could actually donate some things from our containers out back – didn’t think of that. Great ideas and great to hear from you!

  3. Carl Carl says:

    Just a note… we did hear back from a local nursing home. Stay tuned to hear about our first family visit.

  4. Andrea says:

    BTW, I forgot to thank Susan (Carl’s mom) for tagging along on our garbage pick-up and taking those wonderful pics. Thanks Susan! We’re looking forward to your next visit.

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