Summer is a great time to help your kids become involved in service projects. If your child is shy or tends to play solo, interacting with others through service projects can be a great way to develop life and social skills. Involve the whole family, and you all benefit from meeting new friends and enjoying the good feelings that come from helping others. Here are some of our family’s favorite service projects, helpful for a wide age range and various abilities.
Donate to a Nursing Home or Care Center
- Visit. When my youngest was but a cute toddler, he captured everyone’s attention during a visit to a local assisted living center. We have a friend who resides there, but she had to share his cuteness with several other residents. Just starting to walk, he had a great time using their walkers as push toys (with their encouragement and permission, of course). He would also practice walking along the couch and windows where several lady admirers would ooh, aah, and clap at his accomplishments. He would reach out to hold their hands when he needed a little steadying and was busy working the crowd. I was thrilled to visit with my friend and have a small break from constantly entertaining one very busy little boy.
- Birthday goodies. Aside from the usual visits or musical performances, you can really brighten a resident’s day by providing thoughtful gifts that let them know they are not forgotten. When my first son was quite young, I teamed up with another mom and her son to make birthday goodies for residents at a nearby assisted living center. We contacted the center first and asked for their permission. They were thrilled that we wanted to do something for their residents! They told us that a favorite treat there was microwave popcorn. So we bought a big box of prepackaged popcorn bags and set to work decorating them with the kids. We gathered all of our decorative paper scraps and made simple “sleeves” or “wrappers” for each popcorn goodie. We simply cut the paper to size, wrapped it tight around the middle of the popcorn package, and adhered it with tape. Then we let our kids decorate them any way they wanted to with craft and ribbon scraps that we needed to use up anyway. We affixed a simple “Happy Birthday!” tag to each but left the main decorating to the little ones. Each gift was so unique and lovingly made. They were perfect! When we finished, we took the boys with us to give them to the care center. They let us make deliveries to the residents who had birthdays that month. So a personalized gift via special delivery was extra fun for all of us.
- Prizes. In addition to birthday goodies, you can also make or buy inexpensive Bingo prizes. The popcorn gifts would work really well for this too. Since the residents have small rooms, we always tried to donate consumables or simple artwork and not something that would clutter their space. Before donating anything, make sure you get permission from management first. Some care centers are especially careful about their residents’ diets and don’t want a lot of sugary treats.
- Make pet toys. For a family reunion, I asked everyone to bring their old t-shirts. We then made simple, braided pet toys for our own pets plus a generous donation for our local Humane Society. To make each toy, we simply cut three strips of similar width and length and braided them tightly together, knotting each end. We found that thicker strips worked better for dogs, while thinner strips became cat toys. We made them in a variety of colors and sometimes tied knots in the middle or at intervals. Some we left as rope braids; others we tied into circles. The toys were a huge hit with our own dogs, so we knew the pets at the shelter would love them! Prior to making the toys, I contacted the Humane Society. Again, they were thrilled that we wanted to make a donation! Their only rule was that the toys couldn’t be glued or contain items that could be choking hazards.
- Take a dog on a walk. Especially if you have elderly or homebound neighbors with dogs, help your children offer to walk Fido. You, your kid, the dog–everyone will enjoy the exercise, and your neighbors will enjoy having a calmer dog in the house. In our family, a beloved grandmother enjoys walking her dog, but it isn’t safe for her to go out alone anymore. So we team up with her and bring our dog along too. Your local animal shelter might let you walk their dogs or play with their cats. Call them before showing up. For liability reasons, some of them do not allow minors to play with their animals.
- Help at a local fundraiser. When we lived in Idaho I started a Friends of the Library group. I’m not suggesting that you need to create your own nonprofit group, but you can offer to help one. My oldest son and I helped set up and run several fundraising book sales. He loved being the cashier and was quite the little salesman, helping anyone who would care to listen. With each sale and with the help of many other volunteers, we would usually earn a couple thousand dollars. Then it was fun to help decide where the money should be spent. We were able to supply our beloved local library with a Wii and games, a mural in a children’s section, custom-built shelving, book club books, and many more items. An added bonus: the library let us donate unsold books on tape to our local care center. Another time, my son helped his dad be an emcee for a Fun Run fundraiser. Nothing beats helping your dad ham it up for the crowd.
- Collect Box Tops. Summertime is a great time to stockpile those dime-earning Box Tops! We save them year-round, and my son enjoys helping me find them and cut them out. Then he saves them until the school has a contest or promises prizes for his collection. Enlist the help of family and friends to increase your summer Box Top stash so you’ll be more than ready when school starts again. Our elementary school in Idaho used to earn several thousand dollars a year from Box Tops, so it’s worth it to take a little effort to save them. Maybe your school earns extra money through another redemption program? Just make sure you keep collecting during the break.
- Gather items for those in need. The daughter of a friend of mine collected donations of dresses and hair bows for girls in Africa. Her mom sent an email out to several family members and friends, asking for contributions. They live in another state, so I made inexpensive hair bows that were easy and cost-effective to ship. I believe they then worked with Mothers Without Borders to eventually ship or deliver all items, and I remember my friend’s daughter ended up with a large assortment. The project was a success, and she has a gratifying memory that will last forever. Check out Mothers Without Borders. It’s a fascinating website with lots of opportunities to serve. Maybe your child could donate money earned from a lemonade stand to sponsor schooling for a child in Zambia. $30 a month will do just that. Or maybe you’ll want to help teenage children save money to go on a volunteer expedition. The volunteer opportunities can be simple or involved. Volunteer Match is another great resource, especially if you want to keep your volunteer efforts local. You can filter your search to include just those projects where children can help too.
Many of you have done great service projects with your children. Will you share your ideas here? We would so love to hear them and be inspired to do more!