When Jasmine Ng’s son, Matthias Chai, was 3 years old, he went with his mom while she delivered food for Meals on Wheels. One visit was to a very old, very thin woman. “He was afraid of her at first,” Jasmine says. So she took her time in explaining to her little boy that the woman was just like his grandma. Within three visits, Matthias was sitting next to the woman and listening to her talk. “If you ask him, he probably doesn’t remember [the woman], but for me, it was very powerful.”
Matthias is now 8. In the last five years, he has stocked groceries at a warehouse and made sandwiches for the homeless. Jasmine and her husband feel it’s important they teach their son about volunteering. “It takes a village to raise a child,” she says. “Not just the village reaching out to him, he needs to reach out to the village to be a good citizen.”
But Jasmine, who previously worked at the Volunteer Center of North Texas, has found too few volunteer opportunites for her son. And the center, which acts as a clearinghouse for nonprofits, reports that of the 2,500 agencies in Dallas, Tarrant, and Collin counties it works with, only 2 percent accept volunteers under 12.
Carissa Galvan hasn’t let that stop her from volunteering with her 4-year-old son, Ryan.The 26-year-old mom is also a full-time student at the University of Texas Dallas and works part-time at a law firm, and though she is busy, finding volunteer opportunities for herself and Ryan is a big priority. “I think the most valuable thing that anybody has is his or her time,” Carissa says. “If it’s something that you’re willing to share with others, that’s what people need.”
While it’s true that volunteer opportunities for children under 12 are rare, they are out there. Here are a few that welcome all ages.
Volunteer Center of North Texas
Julie Thomas, CEO of the Volunteer Center of North Texas, remembers going with her mom, a nurse, to give allergy injections to lower-income families. Though such opportunities aren’t offered today, in 2013 the center plans to launch a family volunteer program based on various interests—the elderly, animals, hunger, or the environment. In the meantime, you can reach out to the center directly to find a good match for you and your child.
Lemons to Aid
In 2010, Melissa Plaskoff was worried about her son, Hudson. He was struggling in school. In a quirky bit of fate, the earthquake in Haiti changed everything. Hudson, who at the time was 4, was suddenly and deeply moved to help the victims. He enlisted his 2-year-old brother to help run a lemonade stand and the kids raised $150 in three hours. The idea of using lemonade stands to help people around the world quickly spread. Hudson has since appeared in USA Today, and his mother created Lemons to Aid, a foundation that makes children-driven fundraisers easy. “Lemons to Aid has evolved into a way to set up a foundation of philanthropic giving at a young age,” Melissa says. The organization is for anything that children may be interested in, whether writing cards to troops, or, of course, lemonade stands. And Hudson? At age 6, he’s doing just fine and inspiring other kids to take action. “He truly believes that children have the power,” Melissa says
The Senior Source
The Senior Source works with 68 nursing homes and 186 assisted-living facilities in Dallas County. It’s easy for families to go to these facilities and spend time with the elderly, who quite often have no visitors. Marsha Evans, visitor coordinator at The Senior Source, helps set up meetings and prepare children for the various things they may encounter on their visits. Suzanna Sulfstede, the director of the Nursing Home Ombudsman Program at the Senior Source, oversees operation of the entire program, recruiting and placing volunteers and helping to ensure that the experience is beneficial for all. “We’ve got residents who are over 100 years old,” she says. “They get to share their stories with kids. That’s priceless.”
Michelle Chase, a mother of two, founded Wee Volunteer three years ago. There are now more than 450 volunteer families and almost 600 people in their program, participating in 12 to 20 volunteer opportunities a month. The former lawyer organizes informative and fun events for kids. For example, Meals on Big Wheels entails a party bus loaded with kids and parents delivering meals to low-income individuals. Volunteers who sign up for Service Suitcase complete projects, such as making birthday cards, for the homeless or elderly and then fill the suitcase with hygiene products for a local charity. For Michelle, it’s all about leading by example. “My big thing is not just preaching to them about giving back or how to feel about volunteering, but actually showing the children there are people in need.”