By Kim McNeill

At the time of the year-end holidays, when many of us are reveling in the joy of abundance and being able to generously provide for ourselves, we are fully aware of how much we have. Thanksgiving and the winter holidays remind us to step back and think about why we are so contented. What if we didn’t have good health, ample food, warm beds, or hot showers?

Volunteering helps us remember to appreciate our circumstances and never take them for granted. Many parents want to involve their children in helping people in need.

In volunteering, as in the rest of parenting, children learn best by example. When families volunteer together, the children learn by example and the family grows closer by sharing what may be a pivotal experience.

While many volunteer organizations can only allow adults to work with them, here are a few where youth can help.

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Shoreline Soup Kitchens & Pantries
Grace Episcopal Church
336 Main Street
Old Saybrook, CT

The Shoreline Soup Kitchen and Pantry has guidelines that allow any age of child to help. Though children under 8 will not work with the patrons of the soup kitchen, they are welcome to help their parents with other volunteer tasks, such as in the pantry and collecting from a food drive. As the child matures, up to 14 years old, they may be allowed to have an expanded role at certain sites. 14 to 16 year olds still need to have their parents with them, but have more involvement in the front end of the operations.

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Make and Take

When time or situation disallows more direct involvement, there are many other ways to help behind the scenes. An option for many families is to make food at their home and then deliver it to meal or pantry sites.

A friend of mine had a cupcake decorating party with her daughter’s friends and the she and her daughter delivered the goodies to a meal site (a meal site is where people sit and eat on site, a pantry site is where people pick up food to take home).

Healthy food is always a consideration, but dessert can be very rewarding. A list of Connecticut food service for the needy can be found at Homeless Shelter Directory. Each location will have different rules regarding underage volunteers. Please confirm their age limits prior to volunteering on site.

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Brighten Someone’s Day

Many adult nursing and long-term care facilities accept families with children of varying ages. Each location has a different procedure. Make sure to call in advance and clarify what ages would be acceptable and what paperwork is needed.

Before going, prepare the children for the unfamiliar smells and explain that some people may be unresponsive. Children (including teens) can play board games with the residents, read together, just discuss life (perhaps learning some living history as well), or assist with other tasks as is appropriate.

Regular visits can give both parties something rewarding to anticipate. You can find a list of skilled nursing facilities at the State of Connecticut website.

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The Furry, or Slimy, Trail

I think all of the children I know love animals of one sort or another. Of course their dream job would be to cuddle and play with pets as much as they can.

As with many other volunteer locations, most positions volunteering at animal shelter require 18 year-olds and older. Don’t let that discourage your family, though.

Most animal shelters do not have enough room in to keep all of the animals on site and the animals are also better off many times in a home setting. In these situations, shelters often try to arrange foster care.

Another option for temporarily caring for pets in your home is to take in a guide-dog-in-training. Before dogs can be fully brought into the guide dog program, they need to spend their puppyhood being cared for in a specific way.

If you feel your family is up to the challenge, you can apply for one of the puppy-raising programs.

Kim McNeill writes at Nutmeg Families, is a publisher mom with Macaroni Kid of Southbury, Middlebury, Roxbury, Bridgewater, and Oxford, Connecticut, a hyper-local community website for families, and also blogs about more Connecticut family fun at Hearst Connecticut Media Group.


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