Baseball, swimming, sailing–volunteering? That’s right, summertime is the perfect time to explore volunteering activities with kids of all ages. And yes, it can be fun!
Making donations and spending time with others teaches children empathy and compassion and provides an opportunity to learn about a new environment. Elementary school-age children can begin by purging toys, books and clothing on a rainy summer day. Local non-profit organizations like The Neighborhood Club and the Salvation Army take donations almost daily and Purple Heart will even schedule a pick up within one to two days.
For young children who are looking beyond cleaning their rooms or the basement, The Volunteer Family web site offers dozens of fun and creative ways to be helpful. Making boo-boo bunnies and decorating pillowcases for Children’s Hospital of Michigan are great ideas as is having a bake sale or lemonade stand once a week all summer long and then donating the funds to organizations like Habitat for Humanity or Big Family of Michigan.
students Hannah Connors and Emily Fleming have been hosting . Dubbed ‘,’ each year the girls donate $300 to $500 to the Toys for Tots organization.
“It is a great feeling of accomplishment to help someone and it is really rewarding to know that we helped buy gifts for kids who wouldn’t have had them,” said Connors.
Other ideas include hosting an ongoing school supply drive enlisting the help of your neighborhood or church. By mid-August the supplies you’ve collected can be separated into gently-used backpacks and then taken to Cass Community Social Services in Detroit. Donating time to help neighbors with lawn work or dog walking are also great ways to teach kids to look outside of themselves and involved in making a positive impact for others.
Dr. Kara Brooklier, a pediatric neuropsychologist in private practice in Grosse Pointe and Rochester Hills, explains why volunteering at a young age is such an important component to a child’s development.
“Volunteering is beneficial for the social, intellectual, and psychological development of children and teens. Studies have shown that children learn and grow naturally through experiential learning, which allows them to utilize and apply creative and critical thinking skills,” said Brooklier. “Volunteering builds a sense of social responsibility, empathy toward others, and helps to keep a balanced perspective on life.”
Dozens of options exist for older students to volunteer their time and Grosse Pointe South’s SERVE web site lists many opportunities taking place throughout the summer. The Judson Center of Grosse Pointe Farms is looking for helpers with their daily camp and field trip programs serving children with special needs. The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America is hosting a Take Steps Walk on Belle Isle this weekend and is looking for volunteers to help before and during the event. If you would like to be trained as a foster parent of a pet, the Michigan Humane Society is looking for teenagers to become short-term care givers.
Teenagers interested in volunteering their time this summer should consider listing the service on their transcripts for college and can use the experience to explore what direction they would like to pursue after graduation. The SERVE web site offers teens important points to review before volunteering, including: consider issues that are important to you as well as your own skill set and interests; don’t over commit; be open to suggestions and to formal training; and give it your best effort.
“I have been impressed with numerous Grosse Pointe children and teens who have participated in a range of volunteer activities from service through organizations, such as the junior members of Tau Beta working with the Children’s Center of Wayne County, to independent initiatives, such as setting up a recycling program at local schools,” said Brooklier. "However, other children have volunteered through the simple acts of tutoring a peer or helping a senior neighbor with gardening and shoveling snow—any volunteering makes an impact on the volunteer and recipient. It is wonderful for the spirit of volunteerism to be fostered through the family at a young age. Kids who volunteer with their parents are much more likely to become adults who give back to the community and understand that one person can make a difference.”
Perhaps one of the most visible organizations in our community is the Services for Older Citizenslocated in Grosse Pointe. Deanna Arendoski, director of volunteer services since November of 2009, says that there is an ongoing need for volunteers starting as young as middle school-age.
“We have an open door policy and it can change week to week based upon a volunteer’s availability,” said Arendoski. “Each of our student volunteers brings unique talents that range from writing to gardening and we are happy to have them as little or as much as possible.”
Arendoski has a growing email list of contacts who are willing to volunteer which augments her committed list of regular helpers. S.O.C. volunteer opportunities include friendly visits, helping seniors with casual walks, office tasks, writing articles for a publication, gardening teams and a daily Meals on Wheels service.
“It is amazing what these students can do, and they are heroes to the seniors they serve,” said Arendoski. “For example, many of our seniors are overwhelmed with joy after our crew of teenage volunteers restores their once lush gardens. This is truly what makes our community special.”
SOC would not be as successful without its volunteers and highly values those who give of their time. This year, Gregory Detloff, a recent Grosse Pointe South graduate, will receive a Presidential Volunteer Service Award on June 29 from the SOC for his strong commitment. Detloff began his SOC volunteering with the Meals on Wheels program last summer, then was a weekly driver for a woman who regularly visited her husband in a nursing home. Detloff spent countless hours on projects with the Boy Scouts, including building a ramp for a local quadrapalegic woman. The project is helping Detloff towards his Eagle Scout certification.
“It was really heartwarming to work with the S.O.C.,” said Detloff. “I started volunteering soon after I got my driver’s license and it made a lot of sense to help in that way. I really enjoyed meeting so many nice people and helping in any way that I could.”
With colorfully-written calendar entries for camps, sports teams and trips up north all logged in for the summer, there is no shortage of things to do. But when we make time to show our children how easy and fun it is to help others, summer break becomes even more enriching. Yours in gratitude.