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Appendix A. Volunteer Service

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Volunteer community service work is an excellent activity parents can encourage that supports children's positive self-esteem. By helping children realize that there are needy people in the community, service work helps them learn to look beyond their own needs and to place them in proper perspective. Service work also helps children directly build positive self-esteem. As children see their contributions, creative ideas, and hard work having a powerful impact on other people's lives, they begin to feel useful and valuable. Third, volunteer service work provides children opportunities to gain important job-related skills which may later benefit them in their home, school, and work life.

As not all parents are familiar with the practical process of helping children participate in volunteer service, we here provide practical tips for how to prepare and support children's volunteer involvement.

Motivating Children to Want To Volunteer

Parents need to do some preparation before pushing their children to jump into a service project. First of all, children need to learn that volunteer work and service to others are very important activities. They can learn this by watching their parents and other positive adult role models helping other family members, serving their community, and volunteering their time and energy in ways that benefit others. Beyond role modeling, caregivers also need to talk to their kids about the need for service in age-appropriate ways.

Caregivers can begin these preparations by talking about how everyone must take responsibility for their own community so that it is an attractive and safe place to live. Next, they may begin to identify the various needs in their communities. It is also beneficial to encourage children to spot these needs themselves. They might notice that volunteers are needed to pick up litter in the park, to recycle, to plant flowers at the school, or to paint the benches at the playground. Parents should also explain to their children that there are some people in their community that need help. Parents may wish to explain the reasons that people in their community need additional assistance. Some of these reasons, including illness, severe poverty, abuse and drug issues, may seem scary to some children. The goal isn't to make children feel scared, however. Rather, it is to help them get excited about the importance of service work in their community. Therefore, when parents are talking about service, they should stay upbeat, excited, and happy. Children who see their parents excited about service work will themselves likely also get excited about the opportunity. Service work should be something children want to do; not something they are forced into.