Everybody agrees volunteering is a great way to feel good and help your community. But it is hard to fit in those altruistic hours when you've got a couple of kids at home. Solution? Volunteer as a family. There are lots of great opportunities to volunteer with your children in the area. Do good, feel good and pass along a great message to your kids!

“A lot of organizations are happy to accommodate children as long as a parent can come along,” says Molly Callaway, Montgomery County Volunteer Center Director. “It's a great opportunity for kids to see good ways for people to help in lots of venues across the area.”

When assessing which opportunities are right for your family, get input from your children as to what interests them. Ask what good works sound fun and rewarding to them. Different children will have different choices and make sure to listen to what they have to say. A child will find the experience more positive if they find the work enjoyable and interesting. Many organizations offer programs which do not require a long term commitment, so feel free to try several and see what fits best for your family.

Do you have an animal lover in the family? Sometimes volunteering can be as simple as cuddling with a kitten for an hour or so on a Saturday. Contact your local animal shelter to see what opportunities are available for younger children.

Some kids need to burn off excess energy on weekends. Harness that vigor with trail maintenance and clean ups.

Reach out to a local food bank and see if they would be interested in having your family volunteer. While most young children cannot volunteer directly, they can have food drives and raise money for the organization. Older kids can do more, such as sort and distribute food, but anything helps. “It is a real need for us,” said Manna Food Center Volunteer Coordinator Katie Sayago. “We rely quite heavily on volunteers throughout the year and we can't do it without the approximately 70,000 volunteer hours we get a year. We need families.”

Parents and older children can also volunteer at shelters and just play with kids or read a book, bounce a ball and sing. Little things can make a big difference in the young lives of both the children in the shelter and your child. “Being part of their development is so special for the volunteers,” said Whitney Faison, Volunteer and Communications Specialist at Bright Beginnings. “For them to feel like they are really making a difference in these kids lives and they really are making that difference.”

Younger kids can also be involved with shelters. With parents help, they can collect items that children without homes need, such as art supplies, clothes and books. At Bright Beginnings, families can come by and drop off the supplies and interact with the children at the shelter. “We explain what we do to these kids who donate to help them understand that different lives have different experiences.” Faison said.

Before you decide to dedicate your time to volunteering with a particular organization, make sure it is reputable and safe. There are several places where you can check to make sure your good works are going to good use. Charity Watch is one such organization, and you can access their website (charitywatch.org) for more information.

Check with your child's school for ideas about local volunteering, as well as your local county government for opportunities to do some good!

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