Ways to Get Your Kids Involved in Volunteering
● By Laura Christman
Make a DifferenceJune 2015
By Laura Christman
Jeffrey Vargo, 10, makes a difference by making music. Twice a month, he plays classical pieces on the piano for residents at River Oaks Retirement Center in Redding.
“I like giving them something to listen to,” Jeffrey says. “I really look forward to going.”
Geneva, his 12-year-old sister, helps turtles. One of her efforts was making posters warning of the danger in releasing pet turtles because they can overtake the North State’s western pond turtles.
“I’ve always wanted to help them out,” Geneva says.
Youth volunteerism is more than high school students scrambling for community service hours to put on college applications. Young people of many ages can pitch in—and in many ways. The benefits are big. When teens, tweens and younger children give, they get. Volunteers gain pride and, often, a new perspective.
“I feel our society is becoming increasingly disconnected… Everybody has a device in front of their face,” says Eva Varga, Geneva and Jeffrey’s mom. Helping others, she says, “ensures our children understand the world is not just what is on our devices. It is much grander than that.”
Varga leads Shasta Roots & Shoots, part of primatologist Jane Goodall’s global effort to promote care and concern for animals and community. In the Redding area, the volunteer group has recycled discarded fishing line near the Sacramento River and built nesting boxes for Mason bees—important pollinators. Parents participate with children.
“Our ages range from toddlers all the way up to middle-school age,” Varga says.
Haven Humane Society in Redding encourages young volunteers through Junior Haven for ages 10 and older. Members decorate kennels, help with events and tackle other projects at the animal shelter. Haven’s animal trainer brings a shelter dog to monthly meetings to share insights on animal behavior.
“It gets them involved with the animals so they understand and care about what Haven does,” says Wendell Enders, volunteer coordinator. Older teens (at least 16) who go through training can participate in Haven’s dog walking program, Enders says. Younger youths can exercise shelter dogs with parents who complete the training.
“We love it when families come,” says Stacy Steel, director of development.
Volunteering as a family is the way for children to help at Good News Rescue Mission in Redding. “The best thing for families to do is serve in the kitchen,” says Janet Shields, volunteer coordinator.
Putting food on plates goes beyond doing something nice. It nurtures compassion. Children see that the homeless are people, too, Shields says.
Turtle Bay Exploration Park’s Teen Volunteer program gives teens opportunities to share information with visitors, help with events, work in the gardens and assist with animals. Liz Crain, volunteer coordinator, says volunteering is a great way for kids to see “there’s a world out there that needs our support.” Turtle Bay encourages families to volunteer, too. The park participates in Family Volunteer Day, a national service effort, the Saturday before Thanksgiving.
Shasta Public Libraries encourages teen involvement through the Teen Advisory Board. The group gives recommendations to library staff on books, programs and services. Participants also help with library activities.
Redding’s trails and parks can be supported through Adopt-a-Park/ Adopt-a-Trail. The city prefers children be 10 and older, but younger children can participate with adult supervision. Families also can help on community cleanup events. And the city is open to specific projects pitched by groups and individuals, says Community Services Director Kim Niemer.
Another way to tap into volunteer work is through organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and church youth groups. “I think it is really empowering for kids to know that they can help,” says Peggy Rebol, director of ministry at First United Methodist Church in Redding.
At First United Methodist Church, young children make cards for shut-ins and sing at nursing homes. Middle and high school students have served food at the mission, assisted with the Whole Earth and Watershed Festival and helped a homeless community in Portland, Ore. A service trip to Nicaragua to is planned this summer.
Payback comes in new connections and a broader understanding of the world. Rebol recalls taking youths to Mexico several years ago. The group went in thinking, “We’re going to help these poor people.” The helpers quickly learned richness isn’t limited to material goods, she says. “When we were there we were struck by, ‘They are giving so much to us.’”
Turtle Bay Exploration Park: www.turtlebay.org
Haven Humane Society: www.havenhumane.org
Good News Rescue Mission: www.gnrm.org; firstname.lastname@example.org
Shasta Roots & Shoots: email@example.com
Shasta Public Libraries: www.shastalibraries.org
Redding parks and trails: www.ci.redding.ca.us/communityservices/