One of my main goals as a parent is to raise children who are respectful, have compassion and give to others—and I don’t just mean sharing their Legos. But with a toddler and young child at home, it isn’t always the easiest to find these opportunities. Part of it is lack of time, and awareness of what’s out there. The other is that, surprisingly, many places that allow adults to volunteer don’t allow children to.
Fortunately, there are a few organizations with a mission to change that. These organizations make it a priority to find projects that are easy enough for kids to do, have a clear purpose kids can understand and provide a fun way to bond as a family. Here are a few in Chicago to consider:
The Honeycomb Project
In 2011, Kristina Lowenstein and Catherine Tannen decided they really wanted a way to connect their kids to issues that were happening in Chicago, like poverty and pollution, but they could find little opportunity to do so. Honeycomb Project was born out of a desire to provide for the civic engagement they desired for their own families. From there, they’ve grown into an organization that provides dozens of ways for families to get involved each month, from making cards for veterans to cleaning up city beaches, hanging with senior citizens to helping shelter animals. All of the volunteer events are free, but they do request donations to cover the costs of putting on the projects. To help connect the dots on some of these projects, they provide family resource guides on topics like clean water and homelessness, which lend facts and talking points as well as additional books that are appropriate for various age groups, along with ways you can get involved further on your own.
Gathering for Good
As part of the Jewish United Fund’s program, PJ Library developed a program called Gathering for Good. The mission was to provide families with children ages two to eight with an opportunity to participate in volunteer activities and learn as a family why they’re important. The organization has a cohort of families each year in the suburbs and in the city. Projects have included labeling and stacking books at Bernie’s Book Bank (an amazing place to volunteer with kids on your own as well), stocking shelves at a food pantry and singing, dancing and crafting with seniors. Lessons of Tikkun Olam (a concept in Judaism about saving the world) are discussed after each opportunity.
Started in the northern suburbs by a mom who wanted her kid to start showing gratitude when he received gifts turned into a non-profit organization with an executive board of active moms and even a kids’ board (grades 7-12) where little ones are encouraged to help generate and execute ideas. It’s only been around for less than a year, but so far they’ve been able to coordinate a large group of lemonade stands to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand for childhood cancer (raising over $5,000 dollars); donate school supplies for over 100 kids in the Chicagoland area; and offer countless other ways to help kids understand gratitude. They even have a gratitude book club. The organization may be in its infancy, but it has big plans to grow and help even more people in need.