The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering
Volunteering to help a great cause is a no-brainer for most families -- besides the obvious benefits for those in need, it's also a wonderful way to sneak in quality time and teach valuable real-life lessons about empathy and sharing. Clueless about getting started? We've done all the legwork for you. Here are 10 noteworthy national organizations eager for your whole family's help, whether you've got hours to spare each week or just a couple of days a year.
Feeding & Caring for Those in Need
Feeding more than 9 million children annually, this charity loves it when kids take part. Some of the more family-friendly projects include sorting donated food (perfect for reinforcing counting and other classroom lessons) and delivering goods to local food pantries. Contact your local chapter for more info on regional programs.
Transform an ordinary trip to the drugstore into a cool volunteering mission by working with AmeriCares, a disaster relief organization that supplies medicine and other must-haves to families in need across the globe. Your kids can gather a few new, essential everyday items -- like a toothbrush and soap -- to create Healthy Kid Kits that are sent to kids in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mongolia.
Habitat for Humanity
Even if they're not quite ready to strap on a hard hat, kids can still get involved with building houses for underprivileged families. Great projects include creating greeting cards, making welcome baskets, or stocking pantries for new homeowners. (Kids can start hammering away after they turn 16.)
Locks of Love
Got mini Rapunzel looking to lop off her locks? Consider encouraging her to donate her tresses to Locks of Love, which turns donated ponytails (at least 10 inches long) into wigs for children with cancer and other medical conditions that trigger hair loss. FYI: About 80 percent of all hair donations come from kids!
Protecting Parks, Newborns, and More
National Parks Service
Spend time in the great outdoors sprucing up gorgeous national parks? You don't have to ask us twice. Families who volunteer with the NPS can get involved with a variety of activities, from cleaning up parks and trails to playing dress-up in local historical plays.
Newborns in Need
Children can welcome premature, sick, or underprivileged newborns into the world by sending small gifts to Newborns in Need, a charity that delivers essentials like onesies, blankets, greeting cards, and gently used books and stuffed animals to parents and their new arrivals. Ask your kid if there are any old books or toys she'd like to part with, or else take a shopping trip together to select cute new duds.
Helping Children Find Comfort
If you've got a kid with a serious blankie addiction, she'll love helping out this organization, which doles out homemade blankets to sick kids of all ages. Even young ones can help -- no knitting needles required -- with super-easy, no-sew fleece blanket patterns on the group's Web site (and your supervision, natch).
Save the Children
Put those crayons to good use! Pint-size Picassos can enter their original drawings in the annual Save the Children Art Contest; the winning designs are often featured on official STC merchandise (ties, scarves, and home accessories, for example). Proceeds go toward helping thousands of needy children worldwide.
Humane & Holistic Helpers
You probably remember the famous orange boxes from your own trick-or-treating days, and your kids can continue to help this classic organization come October 31 via door-to-door donations. But here's a neat update: Now kids can set up their own Web pages to collect donations from far-away friends and family in the weeks before and after Halloween.
Humane Society of the United States
This group's "Mission: Humane" youth program allows kids to help out local furry friends through various advocacy projects, like publicizing shelter pets for adoption.
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