Volunteering is one of the best ways moms can build self-esteem, bridge résumé gaps, and get some much-needed adult interaction while contributing to those in need. By making our world a better place, moms can also teach kids the lifelong skills of empathy, kindness, and caring for others. One of the first things that can go out the window when you become a parent, however, is volunteering. After all, you're busy and overwhelmed, and finding time for a worthy cause seems impossible. But volunteering is completely doable with any busy mom's schedule, and with all the opportunities out there, one will surely work for you. Here are some suggestions for ways moms can volunteer at different stages of a child's life.
Believe it or not, volunteering is fairly easy with babies -- they're mostly portable and they generally sleep a lot. If you're not too exhausted and your baby does well outside the home, consider volunteering at a nonprofit organization's office or anyplace that isn't too hectic. Most new moms crave adult interaction, so this is the perfect way to be social while giving back. Participate in a charity walk or 5K fundraiser to support a cause you care about as you enjoy the outdoors. Just pack your baby in a front carrier or stroller and round up a few friends to join you.
While your toddler is napping or when you have a babysitter, find something you can do from home, such as knitting hats and blankets for a hospital's prenatal care patients, archiving photos for organizations such as the Rainforest Fund, or working from a computer to manage a website. Some churches and synagogues may provide child care for people volunteering at their locations, so be sure to look into that.
You can involve your toddler in volunteer opportunities by introducing service in terms she can understand. Explain that your family is sharing and caring for others, being kind, and helping other people smile and feel better. Have your toddler assemble care packages for soldiers, grocery bags of food for the local community pantry, or bags of toiletry items for the homeless shelter. You can call a nearby nursing home and ask if it has a "toddler day," when little ones are invited to visit and share their cuteness with the elderly residents.
The number of volunteer opportunities that work within your time constraints greatly increases once your children are over the age of 3. You can take them along without too much trouble or enroll them in preschool so you'll have one or two mornings a week to take care of your responsibilities. But flexibility is key, because preschool schedule changes and sick days are inevitable. Once you determine your schedule, call volunteer places to ask what you can do for them with just a few hours a week, or find a group that needs volunteers only once or twice a year, perhaps for school or charity auctions.
This is also a great time to involve your child in service and to begin regular family conversations about doing good deeds and making the world a better place. Include your kids in helping out with seed planting or weed pulling at a sustainable urban farm, joining a community or park cleanup day, or walking well-behaved dogs at an animal shelter. Find something that's fun and rewarding for both of you. Kids feel powerful knowing their efforts can make a difference.
As kids begin elementary school, your schedule may open up considerably -- now you can plan volunteer work around school hours and commit to a set shift each week or a few times a month. You may want to get involved with the PTA or school board, or become a volunteer Room Parent, a liaison between the teacher and all the parents. If you prefer to spend less time involved with the school, consider reading to the kids, working at a book drive, or contributing to a bake sale.
Kids are ripe for service at this age -- they understand the importance of helping others and they feel personal responsibility toward society and our earth. Involve your kids in choosing family service projects such as raking leaves for elderly neighbors, setting up a lemonade stand and donating the profits to charity, recycling cans and bottles found in the park, and collecting towels and pet food for the animal shelter.
Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot (volunteerspot.com), the free time-saving (and stress-saving) coordination tool that makes it easy to sign up, schedule, and remind parents to help schools, teams, and more. Connect with her on Facebook (facebook.com/VolunteerSpot) and Twitter (@VSpotMom).
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