It’s never too early to start volunteering with the kids and the need is ever present. While many families may think to give back over the holidays, volunteers are needed year round. We spoke with Melissa Britton, director of strategic volunteer engagement at Trident United Way, about why volunteering as a family is important and how you can get started.
Q: What exactly does Trident United Way do?
A: Trident United Way serves several roles in the community acting as a community connector and strategic partner with community-wide initiatives like the Tri-County Reading by Third Project, the Berkeley and Dorchester Prosperity Centers and Healthy Tri-County. We also act as a funder, providing program investments to 22 local agencies across Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization. We train and empower 125 volunteers to ensure that our investments are best serving the community. We also recruit and coordinate thousands of volunteers for our annual Day of Caring, the largest single-day volunteer event in the tri-county. In the last two years, we have built a regular volunteer engagement program that gives individuals and organizations the ability to give back to their community through volunteerism.
Q: Why is volunteering as a family important?
A: Kids may not yet have the life experience to understand why volunteering is so important. By participating in volunteer activities, they get to see how their service impacts their community firsthand. This may help them develop more compassion for others and develop confidence in knowing that they can be an agent for change. All of these are empowering messages for children. They may also have a cause they already care about like animal welfare or preventing hunger. Volunteering is one way to connect them directly to these social issues and demonstrate how they can make a difference.
Q: What are the greatest volunteer needs you are currently facing?
A: Trident United Way works with many other organizations, known as partner agencies, to help match volunteers to their projects. Every month we have at least a handful of projects for which we need willing and enthusiastic volunteers. Some have a minimum age requirement and happen during the work day, while others are on the weekend and open to people of all ages, making them a great opportunity for families. Our projects are as diverse as the agencies we partner with! One day we may be building compost bins for youth gardening programs and the next day we’ll be playing Bingo with senior citizens to help keep them socially active and reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s. These are just two examples of the many, many activities we recruit volunteers for each month.
We send out a list of opportunities monthly. If you’d like to be added to the list, send a quick email to email@example.com and we’ll be happy to add you!
Q: What’s a good age to get kids started volunteering?
A: It’s never too early to start volunteering! Most agencies that we work with have a minimum age requirement of 16 but some offer the opportunity for younger children to volunteer with adult supervision. There are also plenty of opportunities that can be done at home! As a family you can collect hygiene products or nonperishable food to package and donate to a local shelter. Preparing care packages for home-bound seniors or making bookmarks for children in after-school programs are also great things you can do at home with your children. These “portable” projects provide meaningful ways to help the community while also allowing families to work around their busy schedules. Further, at-home volunteer projects are a great way to involve your younger children.
Q: What time of year are you most in need of helping hands?
A: There is a need for volunteers year-round. Most organizations, including ours, are in need of volunteers every single month, if not daily. Around the holidays, we see a rise in volunteerism, but throughout the rest of the year, nonprofits may struggle to find enough hands. Trident United Way typically offers five to 10 opportunities per month that volunteers can get involved in and some of these are age-appropriate for kids as well. You can learn more on our website at tuw.org/volunteer.
Q: Is it important for teens in particular to get involved in their community?
A: Service is a valuable part of anyone’s life, regardless of age, but it can be particularly helpful for teenagers. We learn so much by giving back to others and volunteers get as much as they give. Teenagers can learn soft skills by volunteering in an office setting. They can learn empathy by volunteering at a food pantry or community kitchen; even construction skills can be learned by volunteering for a local home build. Fostering a sense of service and philanthropy at a young age will help lay the groundwork for their adult life and how they interact with others and the community.
Q: How can you make volunteering with your kids a habit instead of a one-time occurrence?
A: With today’s jam-packed schedules, it can be a challenge for families to make time to volunteer. Families can set themselves up for success by planning ahead and setting realistic expectations. Just like scheduling a doctor’s appointment, birthday party or play date, planning ahead and scheduling regular volunteer opportunities is an effective way to ensure your family keeps service a priority. Family-friendly opportunities can fill up fast, especially around the holidays, so it’s always a good idea to give yourself plenty of time to look for a project.
Keep expectations realistic by choosing a volunteer opportunity that is feasible for you and your family. One-time volunteer opportunities are just as important as ongoing ones. And remember, there are plenty of ideas online about how to do a volunteer project at home with the family so that all ages can be involved.
Q: How can parents be good role models when it comes to volunteering?
A: Leading by example is a great way to be a good role model. Finding time to volunteer yourself, whether its on various committees, at your child’s school or a favorite nonprofit, is a great way to teach your children that it’s on all of us to give our time and take initiative to make a positive difference in the community.