Zion NP

Volunteering as a Family

By Hope Sykes

Many RVing families quickly discover how enriching the traveling lifestyle can be, especially when combined with homeschooling. New places, new sounds and new experiences can make an unrivaled learning environment for your kids. But what about volunteering? Can you do this as an RVing family, and if so, how do you go about it?

Sure you can! RVers can be highly sought after, since their housing needs are already taken care of, and they can go wherever help is needed most. With downsizing and the smaller staffs of some non-profit organizations, the concept of a volunteering family is not only welcomed, but encouraged.

There are basically five steps that you will go through when you volunteer as a family:

Step 1: Develop an awareness of which problems or issues in which you would like to involve your family's efforts

What issues is your family passionate about? Did a newspaper story catch someone's attention? Did you spot a homeless person during your travels? Did you see litter scattered about in an otherwise beautiful state park?

Step 2: Try to develop a set of questions to help tackle the project

Examples would be:

  • Where would we like to volunteer?
  • How much time do we want to devote to the project? A day? A few hours? A week? Longer?
  • What skills do we each have that would work for this situation? Don't forget the younger members of your family. Even young children can pick up litter, sort by color, or pass out information.
  • In addition to giving of our time and talents, what would we like to learn from this experience?

Step 3: Research the Topic

Once you've identified a subject and area where you would like to volunteer, research the topic so you will be better informed and able to educate others. Examples could include discovering the number of homeless in America or how much food is wasted in the U.S. per year.

Identifying the problem can help you research the topic more easily through the Internet or at a local library. Don't forget to check area phone books under "Social Service Organizations" to see if an organization already exists in your area where you can get information and offer assistance.

Now's a good time to see how you can integrate these activities into homeschooling lessons or even resume? If someone in your family is interested in earning college credit, check with an area university to see if credit can be earned for these activities.

Step 4: Put your family's plans into action

When you contact the volunteer agency, make sure that all ages will be accepted. Don't forget to ask what arrangements are possible since you will be arriving by RV. Will you be allowed to park on site? Will hook-ups be provided at no charge? If you have pets, will they be allowed?

Try to arrange your schedules so that parents can trade off volunteer work and other activities if very young children are involved. Children often aren't interested in intense volunteer activity for the entire day so break up the time with other enjoyable activities. Make sure that you have planned your activities so that the entire family can "end on a happy note" rather than feeling rushed or exhausted.

Step 5: Decide how you want to record your efforts

Picture taking and journal writing can be fun and educational. Web sites can be set up for free and allow others to follow your progress.

Documentation is also a great way to discover how your efforts have had a positive effect. How many homeless did you feed in one day? How many pounds of aluminum cans did your family collect?

If the activity was really fun and productive, recording your efforts will give you a template for what to look for in another volunteer adventure.

  • What did you like best about the experience?
  • What made it so successful or rewarding?
  • How could the experience be improved?
  • Who at the facility made such an impact?

If you have young children or are young-at-heart, I highly recommend The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern to get you started.

This is definitely a lap and snuggle book. It's not heavy, but BIG with warm tones and autumn colors settled on the pages. The illustrator, Marni Backer, captured snowy winter scenes that immediately draw you into any large city and any large neighborhood. Could this neighborhood be yours?

With each turn of the page, the traffic muffles and city bustle blurs so that you can now be introduced to Lizzie and Ben's dilemma of seeing a homeless woman, Dorrie, and the children wanting to help despite their mother's caution about talking to strangers.

Told with the realism of a child, you'll see how Lizzie and Ben leave Dorrie peanut butter and crackers--but forget to give her a dinner knife. (They did much better when they brought her some warm vegetable noodle soup.)

When their mother takes notice of the parade of missing food items, she becomes involved. She helps to find out why Dorrie is homeless, and the whole family spends a Saturday volunteering at a soup kitchen. I won't spoil the ending, but rest assured that there is a message of hope for Dorrie.

One of the nicest features about the book is the note from the author on the last page.

Important Dates:

  • National Youth Service Day - in April Youth Service America
  • Global Youth Service Day - in April
  • Family Volunteering Day - November 17

More FOTR Articles about Volunteering