Family Volunteer Ideas for the School Year

By Karen Daniel
A young mother and her two little girls serve a healthy meal to people in a homeless shelter.

Looking for strategies to increase your students’ academic engagement? Want to give your kids vital skills and virtues like empathy, leadership and confidence? Integrating community service into the lives of students this school year will make a critical impact on your children AND your community.

Studies show that academic engagement increases as students understand the relevance of what they are learning in school. That’s where volunteering comes in! They can use language arts to help younger students learn to read, math to construct community gardens that feed hungry people, or art to raise public awareness about violence prevention.

Volunteering can also help students develop vital college and career readiness skills. Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication and empathy are the building blocks of all service projects and are recognized by universities and employers as essential skills for success in the 21st century.

And the benefits aren’t limited to academics. Volunteering can also help children and teens develop identity and purpose. What better way to show youth that they matter—not in some distant future, but today—than by showing them how to make a difference in the world? Youth who volunteer will continue to contribute, vote and be philanthropic for a lifetime.

Multi-ethnic group of teenage volunteers organize clothing donation event to help needy families.  Latin, female team member foreground organizing the collection. Disaster relief, global aid, charity and relief work themes.

School-year Service Takes Two Primary Forms:

1. Service-learning integrated into academic subjects. For example, a science class can study the environment and lead a waste reduction campaign at the school.

2. School-based group projects. For example, the football team can hold a canned food drive as the price of admission for a game.

Youth Service America (YSA) helps young people find their voice, take action and have an impact on vital community issues. YSA offers free resources to help students—as well as their adult allies— plan and implement service projects. Here are five ways to get started:

Participate in a National Day of Service

Service events like National Voter Registration Day (Sept. 24, 2019), the Martin Luther King Day of Service (Jan. 20, 2020), and Global Youth Service Day (April 17-19, 2020) are great opportunities for first-time service. They also provide highly-visible platforms for spotlighting the contributions youth make year-round.

Integrate Service into Teaching and Learning

YSA’s Semester of Service Guide and Classrooms with a Cause Guide provide practical strategies and lesson plans for educators, taking service from an add-on to an integral part of the classroom experience. Visit to download them!

Build 21st Century Skills

In a Gallup/Microsoft/Pearson study, young workers who learned 21st century skills in high school or college, “are twice as likely to have higher work quality compared with their peers.” Those skills include knowledge construction, real world problem-solving, collaboration, self-regulation, communications, technology and global awareness. Of these, real-world problem-solving ranked as the most important factor of higher work quality. Make sure your volunteer projects work to solve real-world problems!

Engage Youth Not Traditionally Asked to Serve

Do you know the number one reason that young people volunteer for the first time? Someone invited them! Unfortunately, not all young people are invited to serve at the same rate as others. Youth with disabilities, youth in foster care, youth who are struggling in school, and many others have just as much to contribute as everyone else. Go out of your way to invite them.

Develop a Compelling Project for Any Time of the Year

YSA’s Project Idea Database has dozens of examples that you can adapt. You can search by youth passion (sports, music and art, technology and science, etc.) or issue area (the environment, literacy, hunger, etc.) Check it out at LeadASAP.

This year go back to service when you go back to school. You’ll be glad you did!

As the Vice President of Programs at YSA (Youth Service America), Karen Daniel ensures that YSA’s programs meet strategic goals around Scale, Visibility and Impact. YSA believes that youth and communities thrive when they work together for the common good.

FAMILY SERVICE: 7 Acts of Kindness

Here are some ideas you can help your child/youth do throughout the school year.

  1. Stick up for someone when they are being gossiped about.
  2. Grow out your hair to donate to a charity to make wigs for cancer patients.
  3. Make a Teacher Smile: surprise them with a treat, note or kind word.
  4. Donate old Halloween costumes to a children’s hospital.
  5. Make homemade cards for older family members or friends—or a retirement community.
  6. Take a family picture and send it to a sick friend or family member with a note to get well soon.
  7. Say yes to the cashier next time they ask if you want to donate $1 to whichever cause.


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