Since my little ones were born, I have cut back on my professional and volunteer obligations. It is the volunteering that I miss the most – both ministries at the parish and volunteering with local community organizations.
Jesus calls me to be engaged with the world, engaged with the joys and the suffering of others. Volunteering has always allowed me to venture beyond my individual bubble and daily concerns to build a deeper sense of community. Now as my first son has entered kindergarten, I want to find new ways to model volunteerism with the hope that he will one day embrace similar values.
Here are some suggestions for volunteering as family.
Find the Right Opportunity
- Consider what is already important or meaningful to you as a family. If you enjoy music, then the parish choir seems like an ideal place to begin. If your children adore pets, then walking dogs for a local animal shelter or elderly neighbor would be a natural fit. If your teenager is patient with younger siblings, then he or she may enjoy volunteering with an after-school program for younger children.
- Use your skill sets. If your background is in marketing, there are undoubtedly many nonprofit organizations which could benefit from your social media savvy. If you are a committed gardener, a local food bank or food distribution network would appreciate a proportion or entirety of your harvest. If you and your children craft together, many facilities and programs that serve the elderly, hospice patients or friends with disabilities will welcome homemade cards or knitted/crocheted blankets.
- Brainstorm with your deacon. The deaconate charism is one of living out service to God’s people. Your deacon will likely be a wellspring of information about the needs inside and outside of your parish. He is likely able to refer you directly to volunteer coordinators or other contacts at local organizations in need of volunteers.
- Some families approach volunteering from the perspective of advocacy and education. They decide what specific social concerns with which to educate themselves while forming a rapport with those whom the issue personally affects. For example, a family might want to deepen their understanding about the Ukrainian refugee crisis by sponsoring a Ukrainian refugee family in their area. Personally, I have been privileged to be part of a care community for a local foster family. If you are interested in learning more about Supporting Foster Families, please see my previous article.
- Catholic Charities USA has been working on a national level to reduce poverty in America since 1910. Catholic Charities provides services and advocates in these ministerial areas: affordable housing, food & nutrition, immigration & refugee services, healthcare, disaster relief and social enterprise initiatives. With so many chapters throughout the United States, contacting your local Catholic Charities is a great way to better understand the needs in your neighborhood.
- Contact your local diocesan office for peace and justice. Like your local Catholic Charities, this office will be intimately acquainted with the most pressing needs throughout your diocese and how best to meet them.
- Volunteer Match connects interested volunteers with both in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities by zip code. You can filter the results by cause areas, skill sets and whether they welcome children or teen volunteers.
- Discuss the possibility of full-time volunteer service with teenagers or young adults. Catholic Volunteer Network (CVN) supports 135 member programs and offers a searchable database of both domestic and international service opportunities. CVN’s vision is that “through service rooted in faith, all will know the opportunity to impact the world and be transformed.”
- Be realistic about how much time you can give. If you can volunteer one hour a week, that is fantastic! Many family schedules may not allow for a consistent commitment. Volunteering 3-4 times of year lays a great foundation for future engagement.
- Many local organizations have specific protocols about the ages of volunteers. Even if your 9-year-old is too young to serve at a particular soup kitchen, your family can still have a conversation with them about other ways to help. Your family may be able to sponsor a food drive and sort the subsequent donations. Do not hesitate to explore alternative possibilities if you or your children is really committed to the organization’s mission.
- Christmas and Thanksgiving are wonderful times to volunteer yet many others have the same idea. Most nonprofit organizations will remind volunteers that the needs are just as pressing in the third week of July. Try to volunteer when your presence is most needed.
Be Led by Gospel-Values
Practice humility and leave your ego at the door since ministry and volunteering is ultimately not about you. Jesus provided us the template of how to love and embrace others, especially those on the margins of society. We are called to do the same.
Photo Courtesy of Joel Muniz @infraredla.