5 Rewarding Volunteering Experiences to Keep Your Kids Busy This Summer


School is officially out for the summer and kids have lots of time on their hands. Instead of whittling away the hours on a tablet or in front of the tube, how about getting your kids to do something that will benefit the community in the form of volunteer work? The bonus: they will get more out of it than you think—not only will they possibly change the lives of others, but also their own.

“It’s innate in kids to want to do good for their community,” said Annelise Bauer, founder of Children4Change, which curates and organizes volunteer projects for Marin-based elementary and middle schools. “Instead of volunteering sporadically and with fleeting purpose, let’s nurture our kids to have a sense of empathy and an understanding for people who have different life experiences than their own.”

Bauer encourages parents to seek out volunteer opportunities with the capacity to help young people understand what they are doing as volunteers, and how it will affect the world. Children4Change’s members are encouraged to be innovative. Take Lily, a third-grade student who created “Lily’s Pots of Love” cooking kits for those transitioning out of homelessness. Instead of sending off the kits to unknown recipients, Lily and her friends participated in a cooking event with the receiving families at Gilead House and created a richer experience for all.

More Places You and Your Child Can Give Back

Kids Volunteering Guide Dogs

Guide Dogs for the Blind

This organization is always on the lookout for stellar families, including ones with kids, to be part of its puppy raising program. Keep in mind it’s a long-term commitment, up to 17 months long, and letting go of the dog when it’s ready to go into the training program can be heart-wrenching (if you’ve ever seen Guide Dogs’ Pick of the Litter documentary, you know what I’m talking about). But the payoff can be huge, as all puppy raiser families are invited to the training graduation ceremony to meet the dogs’ new visually impaired handlers, and see how much their contribution will have a lasting impact on someone else’s life. 

San Francisco-Marin Food Bank

This food bank offers volunteer opportunities in its San Francisco and San Rafael warehouses (although there are currently no shifts in San Rafael while that facility is being upgraded) where kids aged four and up can help with food sorting and packaging, assembling food boxes for seniors and sorting donations. But perhaps more gratifying and fun for little ones is running a donation-focused lemonade stand, using this Instagram-worthy kit to raise funds money for the food bank.

Mindful Littles

Based in the East Bay, Mindful Littles creates service learning experiences for youngsters such as its Critter Compassion program, in which kids interact with animals at local shelters and animal farms to foster kindness and responsibility for animals, and its Building Bridges program dedicated to fostering diversity and inclusion. It also offers a leadership-in-training program for older kids in middle school through college.

Institute on Aging

This San Francisco organization loves having youth in grades K-12 (as well as college students) interact with their patients in its social day program, geared to individuals with dementia. Rather than having only set activities, they will customize the volunteer’s experience based on his or her comfort level—with activities like playing cards, doing arts and crafts together or simply having a conversation. Institute on Aging is set to open a new extended day care program in the Presidio this summer that will increase the number of patients it serves, so there is a need for new volunteers.

LITA (Love is the Answer)

This Marin charity has a program that matches families of all stripes with residents in long-term care facilities, offering companionship to senior citizens either on a short-term or extended basis. It allows kids and their families to reach beyond the bounds of their own biological families and build intergenerational friendships.

Still looking for ideas? Attend the second annual Marin Volunteer Fair this September, where you can find non-profits eager to sign you up to help.