5 Ways for young families to volunteer together

These organizations across Canada have low or no minimum age requirements for volunteers, making them perfect places for kids to take their first steps as community change-makers, while spending quality time with you.

By Tamar Satov
If you’re reading this, you already know that volunteering is a great way to help kids understand that giving back is not only meaningful, but can also be fun and social. And the rewards don’t stop there. Volunteering together as a family unites parents and siblings in a common activity, which leads to healthier relationships and creates lasting memories. Organizations benefit, too, both from the immediate help of extra hands and by building ties to the next generation of volunteers.
Having said that, it’s not always easy to find a family-friendly volunteer opportunity, given that many organizations have minimum age requirements to participate. Here are a few possibilities to consider, suitable for even the youngest of helpers.

Visit Seniors
An easy rapport can develop between the young and the elderly, as both groups tend to be less self-conscious than the rest of us. Some seniors’ groups have formal programs to encourage these intergenerational relationships, such as the ASK Friendship Centre in Vancouver, where parents and tots (or school age kids) hang out with seniors in the adult day program for an hour a week over coffee.
Similarly, the German-Canadian Care Home in Vancouver, welcomes visitors of all ages—including the family pet! Volunteers accompany residents on walks, play card or board games, make crafts or garden. The Elliott Community in Guelph, Ont., also takes “friendly” and “pet” visitors, but volunteers must be 14+. Of course, your family can always offer to help the seniors in your neighbourhood with yard work, snow shoveling or other errands.

Take Care of Animals
Ask your local SPCA and other animal shelters if they accept family volunteers to play with their cats, dogs and bunnies, or need foster homes for any of the animals. Zoos and aquariums may also have opportunities for families; the Vancouver Aquarium, for example, has a summer family volunteer program for those 10+ (be mindful they’re looking for a commitment of six 4.5-hour shifts over eight weeks).
Speaking of major commitments, the BC & Alberta Guide Dogs rely on volunteer trainers—including families with school-age children—to help raise their puppies. The primary puppy trainer must be available during the day for meetings and obedience classes and, after the 1.5- to 2-year role is done, the family must say goodbye and let the association’s professional instructors take over the advanced training. For the right family, though, this is an incredible opportunity to help change the life of a child with autism, or a person who is blind or visually impaired.

Get Outside
A cleanup day at a local park might be the perfect activity for first-time family volunteers, since it’s a one-off and easy to do. Some groups also have child-friendly tree planting days; the Rotary Club of Guelph and Grand River Conservation Authority in Ontario hosts an annual Forest and Earth Day drop-in event every April, where nature lovers of all ages plant thousands of trees near Guelph Lake.
The Ottawa Food Bank’s Community Harvest Program needs volunteers during the growing and harvest season (April to October) to help plant, weed, harvest and wash crops on its donated farm, which provide fresh produce to families in need. This is a great group and family volunteering opportunity, with consideration to the minimum recommended age of 8.

Seek out Special Events
Charity walks are perfect for young families, since even the stroller set can join. Or join in seasonal events, such those at the living-history museum at Fort Edmonton Park, where families can pretend to travel back in time by volunteering as Costumed Historical Interpreters.

Be Friends with Another Family
It doesn’t get simpler than this. Your family can make a huge difference in the lives of new Canadians, families living with disabilities and others, just by being there for them. The Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS), for example, will match up your family with an immigrant family to meet once a week for two hours (with six-month minimum commitment) for conversation, friendship-building and to introduce them to their new community. Toronto-based Extend-A-Family, will connect you with a child who has a disability and his/her family, to create mutual friendship and provide a safe social network.