Children love to be helpers. You can put that spirit to work for the greater good by introducing kids to volunteering at a young age. Giving back to the community teaches children the values of self-esteem, empathy, compassion, and gratitude. Here are ten places young “helpers” are welcome, and how you can make volunteerism a family affair.
Waltham, Marblehead, and Canton
Jewish Family & Children’s Service’s Family Table is New England’s largest kosher food pantry, serving people throughout Greater Boston who need assistance, regardless of religious affiliation. Family Table serves more than 100 towns and is currently helping more than 500 families each month with groceries and connections to other services. You can help set up the pantry, sort food donations, package orders for recipient families, and deliver to recipients. Children are welcome to volunteer when accompanied by an adult. To find out more about volunteering, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more
Cradles to Crayons Giving Factory
This nonprofit collects new and nearly new children’s items which are processed and packaged by volunteers in their warehouse, the Giving Factory, then distributed to local disadvantaged children. Volunteers as young as 5 can help at the Giving Factory warehouse in Brighton, packaging donated school supplies, toys, clothing, and shoes, among other essentials for homeless and low-income children. Volunteers with special needs or accommodations are also welcome. Learn more
Boston Harbor Islands
The Boston Harbor Islands, a national recreation area off the coast of Boston, has a “citizen scientist” program that helps rangers understand the flora and fauna that live and breed on the islands and the environmental factors that influence them. Volunteers contribute data on birds, assist in the field by identifying insects and invertebrates, help with early pest detection, and participate in a study assessing the effects of climate change. Kids are welcome when accompanied by an adult. The program runs on Stewardship Saturdays, which are held every Saturday, except holiday weekends, from May through October, and once a month from November to April. Learn more
Greater Boston Food Bank
GBFB is the largest hunger-relief organization in New England and among the largest food banks in the country, distributing nearly 62 million pounds of food to people in need last year. Their Kids Who Care (KWC) program is a special volunteer opportunity that allows children as young as 10 to volunteer alongside family and friends, bagging and boxing food for children, seniors and families in need in Eastern Massachusetts. KWC volunteer groups can have anywhere from 10-25 people, including chaperones. Volunteers are introduced to GBFB, get trained in safe food handling, and take part in a hands-on service activity. Learn more
Mass Audubon – Habitat Intergenerational Program
The Habitat Intergenerational Program (HIP) is a volunteer community service and learning program that started over 20 years ago at Habitat Education Center in Belmont. HIP connects people of all ages and allows people many generations to participate in environmental service projects and become stewards of their environment. Pulling Partners is a weekly after school program that brings together students of varied ages and older adults to work outside helping to control the spread of invasive plants and providing trail work. Other groups meet seasonally. Learn more
BostonCares.org is a site the aggregates volunteer opportunities in the Greater Boston area. To become a Boston Cares member and begin signing up for projects online, you must attend a brief, one-time New Volunteer Orientation. From there, you can search for family-friendly opportunities on their calendar or by “impact area,” such as culture and environment, health and wellness, youth success, etc.
Project Giving Kids
ProjectGivingKids.org is like Boston Cares -- a database of local volunteer opportunities -- but even better for families because all projects are youth-friendly. You pick a cause (aid the animals, aid the elderly, help fight hunger, comfort the sick, or support the troops are some of the options) and the site will give you a list of opportunities to give back that align with your interests. The website also has ideas for service projects that children can do from home.
This Natick-based nonprofit brings a little hope to needy children through the magic of a birthday party. Birthday Wishes ensures that children who are experiencing homelessness have the opportunity to celebrate their birthdays joyfully. Teens accompanied by a parent or guardian can sign up to be birthday party coordinators or volunteers, and younger kids can get involved with different service projects that can be completed from home. Families can create a Birthday in a Box, Party Essentials Packs, or Partylicious Packs, all of which contain items for a birthday celebration wrapped up in a colorful box or bag. These packages can then be dropped off to either the Birthday Wishes headquarters in Natick or to the Western Mass. office in Holyoke. Learn more
Community Harvest Project
With the help of volunteers, this nonprofit farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables for people in need, improving access to healthy food for hungry families in Worcester County. Volunteers of all ages and backgrounds are welcome to start seeds in the greenhouse, plant seedlings in the spring, and tend and harvest crops in the summer. While scheduled group volunteering opportunities are available, there is also the option to just drop by and lend a hand during the growing season -- no orientation, training, or registration required. Individuals and families can stop by to volunteer from 9 a.m. to noon Monday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays, May through September. Children under 16.5 years of age must be accompanied by an adult, but are welcome to join. Learn more
Giving back by playing with puppies? Yes, it’s a real thing. NEADS, a nonprofit that trains service dogs, seeks families to open their homes to their puppies in training as full-time or weekend puppy raisers, or weekend puppy sitters. Puppy raisers make a 12- to 18-month long commitment to raising a puppy in their homes, either full-time or just on the weekends. If you can’t commit that much time, your family can be a weekend puppy sitter, taking puppies out of the NEADS Early Learning Center during the weekends to expose them to life in a home. Learn more