Engaging children in volunteerism

A few years back I served as program director for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program at Graceland University.  When I took the job, it was a new position so I had a lot of work to do.  One of the decisions I had to make was if I should recruit volunteers first or set up volunteer sites (stations in RSVP lingo) first.  I chose to set up the stations first, and it did not take long.  Before I knew it, I was recruiting volunteers from the two county area served by the program.

One day while I was sitting in my office a gentleman I had known since my days as a student at Graceland came in and indicated that he wanted to sign up for RSVP.  I was certain that he was age eligible, but I was required to ask and was shocked to find out that he was over eighty years old, he was in great shape!

As we chatted I learned that he had a few other volunteer roles and he questioned how these may be able to be incorporated into RSVP.  Somehow that part of the conversation stuck with me and I finally decided to do some research.  My findings told me that this gentleman had been volunteering for at a minimum fifty years, that volunteerism ran in his family and that quite possibly he was qualified for a Presidents Volunteer Service Award (PVSA).  I continued digging, met all of his children virtually and eventually surprised him with the ward at a recognition event!

While this story is important to me, more important is what I learned about volunteerism through generations.  While the family had one issue that they all really cared about, each had individual issues that their own families focused on.  This got me thinking about how to get children involved.  We all know that it is possible to find something to do in your community, but finding something to do based on your education, work and mental health may be harder when you are doing it with your children.

Over the past few months my family has considered this as well.  For a short time, we volunteered at a local thrift center.  In the beginning I questioned the utilization of past work, education and metal health but I quickly answered my own question.  For me, the utilization of past work experience was important in this position.  When I was in high school I worked for the family real estate business managing technology, this came in handy when sorting, testing, pricing and sometimes disposing of electronics.  For my daughters, they both had the ability to utilize math skills learned in school and my wife utilized her knowledge of all of the above mentioned skills that she had gained through her own formal education.

This is a small example.  Websites like volunteermatch.com provide search options to find opportunities good for children or for groups such as families.  When considering these positions, have a conversation with your family to find out what they value from their education, any jobs they have held and what elements of daily life make them happy and what they do on a daily basis to keep their mental health in check.  I encourage you to utilize these elements in the selection process as opposed to simply checking off skills that you have.  I believe you will find greater satisfaction in selecting your volunteer engagement based on work, education and mental health than simply on skills you possess.

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