Eye on Extension: Spark a volunteering spirit

VALLEY — One of the reasons I am most grateful that I participated in the 4-H youth development program as a child is that it sparked a lifelong commitment to community service for me.

This service is an important part of the 4-H program. 4-Hers from around the Valley completed a number of service projects this holiday season, including laying wreaths at the veterans’ cemetery, donating teddy bears to first responders, making blankets for the homeless shelter, and assisting at the animal shelter. It’s been inspiring to watch youth take on these projects and kindle the volunteering spirit.

All youth, not just those in 4-H, can benefit greatly from learning the value of service and charity. Teaching kids to volunteer helps connect them with their community, encourages them to develop empathy, and helps them appreciate all of the things they have. Studies show that people who volunteer also have greater self-esteem, confidence and overall satisfaction with life.

Volunteer opportunities are endless, so it’s important to make sure you work to find activities that are a good fit for your child. Use their interests, personality and abilities to help find the perfect opportunity that will ignite their passion. Kids who like being outdoors might enjoy a community clean-up project, while outgoing kids might flourish collecting donations for a clothing drive. Engage your child in selecting an appropriate activity by presenting them with some options and discussing their thoughts on those choices. Having the child involved in selecting the opportunity can help ensure they have a positive experience.

Kids can volunteer alone, but families can also consider volunteering together. Doing service as a family helps strengthen familial bonds and allows you to set a positive example for your children. Parents who volunteer can get the same positive health benefits as their children.

There are loads of volunteer opportunities available to explore. Kids can collect food or other supplies for local food pantries and homeless shelters. They can also donate gently used toys and books from their collections to those in need. It’s a great idea to have the kids select the items to donate and deliver them to the charity to help them be more engaged.

For active youth, a walk-a-thon or bike-a-thon that raises money for a charity they value is a great opportunity. Doing community clean-up projects, or volunteering at a local open space are great ways for kids to get outside and serve. Youth can also help neighbors in need by shoveling snow, or helping deliver meals to the elderly.

Older youth can also volunteer their time assisting at various organizations around the Valley. 4-H members have helped run booths at Farm Safety Day, assisted with registration at local health fairs, and helped run afterschool programs. The possibilities are endless. Identify local charities and give them a call to see how you and your child can help.

After completing a volunteer opportunity, take the time to help your child reflect on their experience. When a child actively thinks about how positive volunteering makes them feel, they are more likely to value service and incorporate it in their daily lives. Start searching today for volunteering opportunities that can spark a lifelong commitment to service from your child.

Amy Henschen is the 4-H Youth Development Agent for Colorado State University Extension. To find out more about Extension and the 4-H program visit http://sanluisvalley.colostate.edu or call 719-852-7381. The Extension office is located at 1899 E Hwy 160, on the eastern edge of Monte Vista. Extension programs are available to all without discrimination.


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