By Carolina Pichardo
When my daughter was eight years old, I arranged a volunteer run to our local nursing homes on Mother’s Day with some of her classmates.
“What are we going to do?” they asked excitedly.
“You’ll see,” I replied, not yet understanding what I’d gotten us into.
After getting the sign-off from other parents, we visited the Fort Tryon and Isabella Nursing homes with a batch of individually wrapped roses.
“I’m going to give the most,” said one of the kids.
“No,” my daughter replied, “I’m gonna beat you.”
When we got there, we were escorted to another floor where the women were gathered together. Each facility coordinated our visit so the patients with less visitors and family were together when the kids arrived.
“What do we do?” they asked nervously.
“Go!” I said. With that, each one ran to personally hand-deliver a rose to the patients.
They ran around and back to get more, all the while hugging the happy, smiling recipients. “There was one lady that didn’t smile,” commented one of the kids.
“She was probably just tired,” I said, knowing very well there wasn’t one sad person in those rooms after our visit.
To this day, my daughter talks about the Mother’s Day event, and asks when we’re going to do it again.
Why shouldn’t she be excited about it?
Also, according to the Independent Sector, 17% of volunteering teens report gaining a new perspective in their community when volunteering.
And parents, take note: research shows that students who volunteer in their communities have higher grades.
For parents, it’s simply a matter of finding the opportunity with local organizations, or creating it. The end goal is basically the same, empowering your kids to make a difference. Here are some ideas to get you started on your volunteering journey with your kids.
When kids set up their lemonade stand, they’re doing more than just selling lemonade. They’re learning basic business practices, how to talk to customers, math and other social development skills. Add the possibility of helping others, and it’s the perfect educational activity. In June, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) launched “Make a Stand,” a national, kid-run lemonade stand campaign to benefit children in crisis or other stressful situations.
According to Adrienne Appell, spokesperson for the TIA, “Make a Stand” is meant to let kids be creative and learn about charity.
“It’s to show kids that what they’re doing makes a difference,” she said, “and that they are able to help.”
The TIA offers tips and supports to kids wanting to participate, including a page with flyers and tips on how to work with the media. Proceeds for the kid-run lemonade stands will benefit organization in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan, including the Abraham House, Inc., Bronxworks, Harlem Education Activities and Harlem Children’s Zone.
Each year, the TIA partners with the My Stuff Bags Foundation and donates hundreds of “Back to School” duffels for students in the Mott Haven Academy Charter School in the Bronx.
From Singing to Gardening
If lemonade stands aren’t your cup of juice, then maybe singing a tune or gardening is more up your alley. New York Cares creates and hosts these types of volunteering opportunities in Washington Heights, Inwood and the Bronx, and allows kids to learn how to work in a group (as opposed to being the boss with their own stand).
Sarita Martinez, a local activist, has volunteered with New York Cares for several years and enjoys working with the organization because of the passion behind their work.
“The leaders who run the activities are always dedicated, responsible, reliable and organized, “she said. “They're really responsive to your emails, and are worth the time.”
Time is something that most New York Cares volunteers must have, as the program is very intensive. Volunteers have to attend an orientation. There are family projects available and time-commitment varies by organizations.
They have opportunities at the Isabella Nursing Home and the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC).
Let Kids Be Creative
Parents can plan and organize until they turn blue, but it’s really about letting kids take control of the activities.
Whether it’s a lemonade stand they manage, or an activity from the New York Care list, it’s about letting them contribute and understand how they’re making things better.
“Letting kids be creative and also learning about charity and what they’re doing really makes a difference,” said Mrs. Appell. “It shows they are able to help.”
To learn more about Make a Stand, visit the organizations page on Facebook and check out how the program is doing nation-wide.
New York Cares has a list of volunteering opportunities available for Washington Heights, Inwood and Bronx residents: www.newyorkcares.org.