- Work once a month at a local soup kitchen.
Soup kitchens are a great way to get started if you’re new to volunteering. Many of them run like well-oiled machines because they’re providing multiple meals a day, every day of the week.
- Love on animals at a local shelter.
If you’re a family of animal lovers, volunteering at an animal shelter is a no-brainer. You just may have to commit to limiting how many furry friends you bring home after your shifts.
- Collect and distribute living essentials to the homeless.
Made popular by celebrities like Jennifer Garner and Joanna Gaines, making essential kits for the homeless is an extremely easy way to give back because it can fit into an already busy family schedule.
Take an afternoon to pack a few essentials, like hand wipes, granola bars, and money for a meal, in a Ziploc bag. As you drive to and from work, soccer practices, and other extracurricular activities, distribute to the homeless in your community whenever you see them. Don’t forget that eye contact and a smile go a long way here too.
- Build a Little Free Library in your community. Is your family full of bookworms? Installing a Little Free Library in your community may be the perfect project for your family. Little Free Library is actually a non-for-profit organization that encourages people to build freestanding libraries, that look somewhat like birdhouses, that help to facilitate book sharing within their community. Through these free libraries, people can take books to read as well as leave those they’ve finished for others to enjoy. Building a Little Free Library promotes creativity but also a bit of involvement in city planning and politics. LittleFreeLibrary.org features plans and blueprints for units as well as tips and tricks for navigating city government and homeowners association ordinances.
- Clean up your community. Cleaning up your community is pretty self-explanatory. Find a park, neighborhood, or road and pick up trash and debris that have been discarded. You can either plan this on your own or look for public events that are focusing on a specific area in your community. If you live near an ocean, lake, or river, there are oftentimes clean-up days scheduled regularly. If you do live near a natural resource and there isn’t any structured event to keep the area clean, consider starting your own! Creating an annual event as a family will look great on applications and can be content for scholarship and college essays. Encourage your child to apply for an environmental scholarship!
- Raise money for a charity through a local walk or run. This is a great option for the family that is active. If your family has been touched by a specific illness or have found a charity that you’re passionate about, you can volunteer your time to either work or compete in a local race event. Susan G. Komen, which raises awareness and funds for breast cancer research and resources for patients, has their More Than Pink walks scheduled throughout the calendar year all over the country. It requires volunteers to set-up, clean-up, and walk the day of the race. Many half and full marathons also have teams that compete for a specific charity to bring visibility to global, national, and local needs. World Vision, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and American Red Cross are just a few of the charity teams that you can join and fundraise with before competing on race day.
- Lend a hand to an elderly neighbor. More likely than not, you have an elderly neighbor who needs help in the yard, in their home, or with errands. Your family can work as a team to serve this neighbor. Helping your elderly neighbor could range from doing their grocery shopping to shoveling their driveway when it snows to yard clean-up in the fall. You could each take on a different responsibility and serve them in a variety of ways, year-round. Though this was once a common concept, serving elderly neighbors almost seems like volunteer work of the past. However, the pandemic brought to light the need to assist those who are more homebound, giving movements like the 50 Yard Challenge the spotlight and recognition to prompt younger generations to get more involved in the lives of the elderly, disabled, and disadvantaged in their communities.
- Go on a mission trip. Does your family love to travel? Take a trip with a purpose during the summer or over school breaks. Many churches sponsor mission trips overseas to provide medical care, educational programming, or build and repair schools and community buildings. These experiences are oftentimes described as “lifechanging” for those who can travel and serve. Serving as a family allows you all to experience this opportunity together, and to gain some real-world skills and insight into how others around the world live. Again, this type of volunteer work can look great on college applications and scholarship essays.
- Become a regular at a children’s hospital or nursing home. You don’t have to have medical experience to serve at a children’s hospital or nursing home. There are plenty of roles to fill that include holding babies, delivering gifts, or taking guests to rooms. Hospitals and nursing homes may still be closed to volunteers because of the COVID-19 pandemic; however, you can keep this type of opportunity on your radar for when they do open. Call your local children’s hospital or nursing home to ask about ways you can serve now. You may be able to host a drive to collect books, essentials, or activities for patients to help them pass the time.
- Start a campaign to benefit your community or school. Does your family see a need in your community that isn’t being met? It may be time for you all to start a movement or an event. Though you may be part of the same family, you all have unique gifts and abilities that can be dynamic to starting your own campaign. Working together to create real change in your community will give your children insight into who they are as well as build their character. Additionally, it can help to cement your family’s legacy toward the betterment of the place that you all live and work. Through this type of volunteer work, your children will learn that serving others isn’t about them at all – it’s about others. They will learn and grow in ways that cannot be taught in any kind of classroom, and that kind of experience is invaluable.
As Ghandi once famously quipped, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service to others.” As the college search is part of the process of finding one’s self, it makes sense that so many colleges ascribe value to volunteer work on the application. How and where a student spends their time says a lot about who they are and helps an admissions committee determine whether that student would be a good fit at their university. While volunteer work isn’t necessary on a college application, it certainly helps. Volunteering also opens doors for scholarship opportunities. Some providers require it as a prerequisite for applying, and the experiences typically make great content for scholarship application essays.At the same time, volunteering as a family helps to set a tone of service within your household, instilling in everyone a desire to serve and make a real difference in others’ lives. It’s also a practical way to invest in your own community. Finally, it makes for a unique bonding experience between you and your children. As your child – or children – gear up for the college admissions process, why not set a family goal to begin volunteering more? There are so many ways you can give your time and resources as a unit. Here are just a few: