Spring and summer months bring long days, warm weather, school vacations—and great opportunities for kids to volunteer and families to serve together. While your service improves the community, your kids also benefit. Here’s how:
- It gives children and teens an 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? Studies show that youth who volunteer will continue to contribute, vote and be philanthropic for a lifetime.
- Your children develop vital college and career readiness skills. Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication are the building blocks of all service projects, and are recognized by universities and employers as essential skills for success in the 21st century.
- Families who help others together benefit from important quality time. Volunteering provides an opportunity to connect with your child and learn new things together. And for kids, they can take the lead in planning and executing family projects.
- YSA (Youth Service America) helps young people find their voice, take action and have an impact on vital community issues. You can also partner with other school groups—such as your PTA or PTSA—to participate in ongoing projects.
Here are some suggestions for a successful service experience:
1. Start with Things Your Kids Love to Do. To encourage a lifelong dedication to volunteering, it is important for service experiences to be fun and meaningful. Show your kids how they can spark change by applying their passions and strengths. Ask…What activities make them feel joyful? Energized? Focused? What activities give them a sense of purpose? What does your family love to do together?
- Creative arts (music, writing, dance, cooking)
- Sports (football, swimming, soccer)
- Learning (languages, science, math)
- Spirituality, religion
- Nature, the environment
- Animal welfare (pets or wild animals)
2. Consider Issues Your Kids Care About. What problems do your kids want to solve? What conditions do your children want to change to make your neighborhood, city or the world better? We face big challenges around the world—fortunately, young people care about them. You can find ideas on specific projects at YSA.org, but common issues that youth address through service include:
- Literacy/Access to education
- Energy conservation/Recycling
- Physical activity/Healthy eating and nutrition
- Disease prevention
- Poverty, Hunger, and Homelessness
- Financial literacy/Affordable housing
- Emergency food provisions
- Human Services/Community Renewal
- Senior citizens
- Public safety/Beautification
- Disaster Preparedness and Response
- Disaster preparedness
- Immediate disaster response/relief
- Veterans and Military
- Active troops/Veterans
- Supporting military families
3. Combine Passions + Issues for Impact. How can you apply your children’s passions and strengths to the issues they care about to make a difference? Check out these ideas:
4. Encourage, Support and Help Your Kids Learn. At YSA, we believe in putting youth in leadership roles. That said, you play an important role in coaching, supporting and helping your kids reflect on their experiences. Here are some conversation starters:
- What do you like to do?
- If you could you change one thing about our neighborhood/city/country/world, what would it be?
- How can you improve our neighborhood/city/country/world, using what you like to do?
- What organizations/people in our community are already working on this issue? Can we partner with them?
- You worked really hard to help others today. What are you most proud about what you did?
- Who else can help us make a difference? Who should we invite to join us?
5. YSA Can Help! Visit YSA.org to access these and other resources for your family:
- Plan a Family Project for YSA’s Global Youth Service Day (April 15-17): Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) is the world’s largest service celebration. Held all over the U.S. and in 100 countries, GYSD is the only service event dedicated to celebrating the contributions that children and youth make 365 days of the year. This year, 7,100 projects will be registered on the GYSD map; create a project to change the world or simply join a project.
- Apply for a YSA Grant: YSA invests in youth-led service projects that make communities greener, safer, cleaner, healthier, smarter and safer through its grant program.
- Check Out YSA Planning Resources for Your Family: Youth Changing the World (for older youth/teens), Kids in Action (for younger kids), and the Family Service Guide will help you plan all aspects of your project.
- Watch a Video with Your Family: The new YSA Learning Center brings resources to life to help you from start to finish.
- Nominate your Child as a YSA Everyday Young Hero: Each week, YSA selects one young person, ages five-25, to be recognized for his or her efforts to improve communities through service. Each selected Everyday Young Hero receives a congratulatory letter, a certificate of recognition, and is highlighted in YSA’s newsletter and on social media, raising the profile of his or her good work. Every month, one Hero will receive a $250 grant to continue and expand his or her project.
Through YSA, you can connect with our Global Youth Service Network of over 5,000 partners. Most national organizations have local affiliates—a great way to connect with additional volunteer organizations in your area.
Best wishes for a fun and meaningful spring and summer of service!
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. Contact Karen at email@example.com; follow her on Twitter @karenldaniel.