Both Inside and Outside the Congregation

Volunteering as a family is really the icing on the cake. It takes the energy from all of the other practices and releases it into the community. The benefits of family volunteering rank right up there with shared meals and reading to children. Consider this list of 10 Reasons Why Family Service Matters from Doing Good Together:

  1. It’s a chance for busy parents to spend time with their kids while giving back to the community.
  2. It enables parents to pass on key values to their children, such as good citizenship, community responsibility, compassion and kindness.
  3. It can help your kids stay out of trouble: Studies show that children who volunteer just one hour per week are less likely than other kids to get involved in destructive behaviors, such as smoking or drug and alcohol abuse. Another bonus: Adults who volunteer are happier and healthier than those who don’t.
  4. It brings family members closer, gets you all talking to one another, and can spark meaningful discussions about important personal and social issues.
  5. It can make you smarter. Hosting a foreign student can teach you about another culture; working to save the rainforest can teach you about ecology and biodiversity. Not to mention the lessons in responsibility and team work.
  6. It can make us grateful for what we have, especially if the volunteer job involves homeless families, lonely seniors or hospitalized children. There’s nothing like volunteering for putting our own problems into perspective.
  7. It breeds a generation of future volunteers. According to a 2002 report, adults who volunteered as children are two times more likely to be involved in community service as adults who didn’t.  And those who volunteered as youth and whose parents volunteered are most generous of all.
  8. It helps children appreciate their own talents, gain self-confidence and feel good about making a contribution.
  9. It helps break down stereotypes at a young age, and teaches greater tolerance and understanding. Through volunteering, children often meet people from diverse cultural backgrounds, lifestyles, ages and income levels.
  10. It’s fun. There can be great joy in serving others, especially when you’re doing it with the ones you love.

The opportunities for family service are endless. In addition to serving a congregation together by doing things like family greeting, helping with hospitality, and pitching in during clean up days, families can serve the wider community by being involved with projects that: help animals, protect the earth, brighten the lives of the elderly, help with the homeless and the hungry, the sick and the disabled. Congregations can do their part by making sure that families are aware of volunteer opportunities in their community, and by arranging for families to participate as part of all-congregation service events.

Congregational Service

Asking families to volunteer to help with some aspect of Sunday worship is an excellent way to get them in the habit of serving together. Many congregations have families do the chalice lighting as a regular part of the service. Others have families serve as part of the hospitality team by greeting visitors together (especially new families) or acting as hosts during the coffee hour. Caring committees can offer families such opportunities to serve together as visiting members recovering from surgery or illnesses and bringing welcome baskets to new families. Consider asking families to help prepare religious education classrooms before the church year starts, and make sure every Clean Up Day at church has plenty of opportunities for teams of families to help out.

Serving the Community

Many families may be ready and willing to serve the wider community, but they may not be aware of the opportunities that exist. Some congregations help families become involved in the community by deliberately including them in a Day of Service. The congregation sets a goal of a specific number of volunteer hours the congregation will contribute to the community over the period of a month, then asks everyone to sign up on a particular Sunday. Service opportunities are list by age appropriateness, such as, “Suitable for All Ages,” “Suitable for Ages 8 and Up,” and so forth. Of course, families are encouraged to sign up together.

Resources for Family Service

In addition to Doing Good Together, there are a number of websites with a wide variety of resources for families wanting to serve together. Favorites include: The Volunteer Family, VolunteerMatch, and FamilyCares.

Michelle Richards, author of Tending the Flame: The Art of UU Parenting, has another wonderful post on her blog entitled “Raising Children Who Value Justice and Compassion” that includes thoughts on volunteering together.