This is the time of year many families are looking to volunteer. It is a great time of year to do this, but I’d like to encourage you and your family to volunteer in your community year round. Here are ten reason to encourage your kids to volunteer from Wear the Cape’s resident expert, Philip Brown, PhD on character education sheds light on the value of urging children to become involved in community service activities.
#1: Volunteering helps foster empathy
Empathy is the most critical disposition for responding to the needs of others. We need to be able to imagine what other people may be going through or feeling. Volunteering helps engage our natural empathic sense, but you have to make sure that there are opportunities to talk about the purpose and experience of any volunteer activity if the recipients aren’t visible in the process (making sandwiches for the homeless isn’t the same as helping to deliver the sandwiches to homeless people).
#2: Volunteering helps develop a sense of self-efficacy
Children may understand that other people need help or that there are projects that could make a community more habitable or productive, but feel helpless or unclear that an individual can do anything about it in response. Volunteering can provide experiences that affirm a young person’s sense that they can make a difference through their own effort and skills. These experiences can empower young people to apply themselves in other contexts, including school and other organized activities, such as faith-based youth groups or scouting.
#3: Volunteers gain experience working with other people
Social skills are best learned in social situations. When people come together to engage in a meaningful task, issues of communication, power, collaboration and trust rise to the surface in a supportive context. It’s easier, although still a challenge, to learn to navigate these waters with others who may be more skillful and be in a position to offer supportive feedback. It’s a good way for parents and children to see each other in a different light, as well, and learn together.
#4: Volunteering develops new skills
In addition to social skills, practical experiences of organizing tasks and using physical and mental capabilities to get jobs done is fundamental to successful work of any kind. In school, these skills are often fragmented or unrelated to real-world applications. Service activities offer the chance to apply and test our abilities, as well as learn from other kids or adults in a way that engages kids’ natural drive for competence.
# 5: Volunteering provides the opportunity to explore new interests and develop new passions
There is nothing more exhilarating than discovering a new field of interest that sparks a real passion for learning and doing. One of the wonderful things about being our species is our inquisitiveness and motivation to investigate and find meaning in discovery. Service activities have the potential to expose us to these opportunities and see how other people live their passions.
#6: Volunteers learn a lot
In the process of joining with others in service, volunteers learn about their community and the larger world. It takes us out of our own sphere of self-interest and self-absorption and opens us to issues and solutions, as well as other people’s needs.
#7: Volunteers actually make a difference in other people’s lives
Think about how much more impoverished our communities would be if all of the volunteer services disappeared. This is a lesson that children can be taught early and take with them into adulthood. For example, volunteers are critical in:
- Helping families (daycare and eldercare)
- Improving schools (tutoring, literacy)
- Supporting youth (mentoring and after-school programs)
- Beautifying the community (beach and park cleanups)
#8: Volunteering encourages civic responsibility
Community service and volunteerism are a way to teach the importance of investing in our community and the people who live in it. We want our kids to not only be successful in their work and personal lives, but to learn what it means to be a citizen in our republic. The American values of democratic decision-making, social justice and equal opportunity require active participation for us to have a successfully functioning country.
#9: Volunteering offers you a chance to give back
It’s important for children to see that there are small and large opportunities to support community resources that your family uses or that benefit people they care about. Whether it’s offering to help man a booth to support improvements in a park you use, or joining a fundraising walk to support medical research for a disease that afflicts a family member or friend, children and adults alike can feel empowered through participation.
#10: Volunteering is good for you
While this is the last reason for volunteering on this list, and may not be the most important, it is good to know that research has consistently shown that acting altruistically has real benefits. Volunteering provides physical and mental rewards; it has been shown to:
- Reduce stress: When you focus on someone other than yourself, it interrupts tension-producing patterns.
- Make you healthier: The moods and emotions that frequently come through volunteer service like optimism, joy, and a sense of self-efficacy can contribute to strengthening the immune system.
- Make you happier: Human beings are social animals. Working closely with others in a common pursuit for the benefit of our fellow creatures can fill us with a sense of purpose, and that can lead us to feelings of satisfaction and true happiness.
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“Volunteering with your kids touches hearts, teaches important life lessons and engraves fond, lifelong memories of family bonding,” said Leigh Ann Errico, CEO and founder of Wear the Cape and the kidkind foundation. “Understanding and participating in activities to benefit the community is crucial to weaving one’s moral fiber.”