Practical Dad

Kids and Volunteering

Early pubescence is a truly challenging time for all parents and kids.  Many families have tried to shelter kids from the problems of the outside world but the parents are noticing an increased curiosity about their larger world.  At the same time, the kids are starting to experience more independence at the same time that they're typically weak in the common sense/judgment department.  How can these disparate threads be pulled together in a decent marriage?

Perhaps the best way is to find a way for the kid to volunteer in the community.  How is this a good solution?

  • It provides a structured opportunity to introduce the youth to the lives and issues of others who can be in extremely different economic and life situations.
  • It provides an outlet for some of the free summer time that would be otherwise wide-open.
  • It gives the youth a chance to experience some responsibility for having a schedule with responsibility to others.  This isn't just a class or camp for their benefit, but their failure to show will have an impact on someone else.

Don't be surprised however, at finding some resistance to this.  The kids are growing and there is the sense that the larger world is starting to eat into their free time.  Likewise, this world can place them in situations outside their comfort zone and that's difficult even for adults at times.  There are several routes that you can take to handle this.  Understand that this is going to require an investment on your part.  Just throwing them the situation is setting them up for failure.

  1. Do your own homework up front.  A good starting point is the Volunteer Coordinator at your local United Way agency.  The United Way is an umbrella for many disparate non-profit groups and will typically ascertain the needs of the various groups; it will also help these groups better understand how to structure the experience for the youth so that bad situations are avoided.  In our area, the United Way will provide an updated list of groups, listing their age requirements and job outlines.
  2. Start planning early, probably in mid-winter.  Because there are only a certain number of volunteer positions for different groups, start in the mid-winter so that your youth has a decent shot at finding the best match.  If there are various scheduling spots, the earlier you can get things rolling the better it can be for your own family/transportation situation.
  3. Talk with your youth and help them define what they want to do.  Some kids know up front while others need to talk through things to find a reasonable match.  If your kid has a natural aversion to something, don't place them in a situation that sets them up for failure.
  4. Walk them through the process of contacting the potential choices.  While the organizations are actively looking for volunteers, they don't want just a body and you don't want your kid in a mess.  You can turn it into a practice for future job interviews by helping them frame their own questions, answering questions in turn and teaching them about presenting themselves.
  5. Understand that this investment on their part is also going to be an investment on your part.  Transportation is on you - whether you take them yourself or help arrange it - and keeping track of the calendar and schedule will rest with you until they improve.
  6. Keep talking with them about what they're doing there.  Is it in keeping with what's offered?  My eldest spent last summer working with the local WIC (Women and Infant Children) program and I suddenly realized that she was now helping in the lab area.  Since the lab area deals with drawing blood for samples, what would be the exposure to used needles?  A quiet phone call to the director allayed my concerns and things moved along.

Volunteering is not a panacea for all situations, but it's a good start on meeting the various needs of a youth, family and community.  The resources are there and some forethought and planning will make it a win/win/win.

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