Like most young children, Elise and Tia Tuttle of Pearland, Texas (pop. 37,640), eagerly anticipate their birthdays each year. But instead of gifts, the girls are encouraged by their parents to request toys for less fortunate kids, or canned goods to donate to a local food bank.
Heidi Tuttle, 32, says helping others teaches her daughters an important lesson and also provides quality family time. “We usually make the deliveries as a family,” Tuttle says. “The girls are young, but they try and serve in ways that a 7- and 6-year-old can.”
Serving the community alongside their parents teaches children about compassion, understanding and civic responsibility, says Heather Jack, 34, of Ashland, Mass. (pop. 14,674), founder of The Volunteer Family, a nonprofit organization in Framingham, Mass.
“My idea was that any family anywhere could find a place where they could volunteer in their own neighborhood,” Jack says. Because her family regularly served food at a homeless shelter and visited the elderly when she was a child, Jack wanted to give her own children similar experiences.
Families can perform numerous volunteer activities together. The key is choosing tasks that are age-appropriate and interesting to both parents and children. Here are a few ideas:
- Make cards for or visit hospitalized children.
- Collect school supplies for kids in need.
- Purchase and deliver holiday gifts to a less fortunate family.
- Prepare meals for a homebound person.
- Visit a retirement home, and spend time talking with or reading to residents.
- Accompany people with disabilities to plays, concerts or sporting events.
“Volunteering helps strengthen the bonds within the family,” Jack says. It also strengthens communities by teaching the next generation the importance of helping neighbors in need.