How to Volunteer with Kids in the Triangle

Here are local acts of service you can do with young ones—and what you need to know.
Written by Addie Ladner

BackPack Buddies | Photograph by Travis Long

Many families want to teach their children the spirit of giving back. And despite Raleigh’s many accolades, there are people in our community that suffer from poverty, illiteracy and hunger. Because of this, there is no shortage of local, impactful organizations that couldn’t exist without the work of volunteers. As the new year gets underway, don’t forget to add service to your resolutions, and to pass that spirit along to children and grandchildren.

While instilling a heart of service in young people is a wonderful thing, there are more factors to consider: age requirements, physical abilities, time commitments and safety concerns, to name a few. Not all volunteer opportunities are open to, or appropriate for, kids.

“We’re always so grateful for our volunteers, but families must consider the scope of work the organization does and find age-appropriate activities,” says Susan Meador, Volunteer Services Director at Inter-Faith Food Shuttle. “We’re happy to have families involved, but there are always concerns with keeping families safe. Not all experiences are appropriate for children and many places don’t let kids under thirteen help.”

Before reaching out to an organization to see if your child can volunteer, remember that these organizations have big-picture missions they are working towards, and that is their top priority. “While we are happy to have families come and couldn’t exist without volunteers, we exist to eradicate hunger, not necessarily to provide family volunteer experiences,” Meador says. Volunteers must take their roles seriously, and it’s best to do some research and planning to find opportunities suitable for you and your family’s abilities, interests, and amount of time to spare. We’ve gleaned more insight from Meador and rounded up a variety of volunteer opportunities for families below.

Read and Feed | Photograph by Tyler Cunningham

Planting the Seeds: Age 5 and under

It’s never too early for kids to start learning about helping others and giving back. Meador says, at this early of an age, follow the child’s lead. “As a parent you may have your own experiences values that are important to you, but also follow what’s important to them.” Here’s what you can pursue for little…

Camden Learning Garden | Photo by Sara D. Davis | Courtesy Inter-Faith Food Shuttle

Hands-On Experiences: Ages 6-11

These formative years are when memories start to stick and interests are formed. Meador says this age range provides an opportunity to show kids how to do goo neighbor-to-neighbor, and to teach them to see what’s happening from their own viewpoint. “It’s really important to instill a heart of service at a young age. I frequently work with young adults who refer to memories in their childhood when they witnessed a community or cultural need,” says Meador.

A few ways these children can help out in their community:

  • Bake homemade goodies for your local fire department or police station.
  • Organize a family or neighborhood-wide walk to pick up trash and recycling.
  • Host a lemonade stand and donate the money to a charity of their choice.
  • Start a garden in your yard (short on space? try a container garden) for Plant a Row for the Hungry. 

A Place at the Table | Photograph by Joshua Steadman

Little Leaders: Ages 12-15

As their independence increases, so do the number of volunteer opportunities that open up for kids in the tween and early teen years. At this age, sometimes with supervision, kids are given more freedom to perform important volunteer tasks on their own. A few ideas:

Habitat for Humanity volunteers | Photograph by Chuck Liddy for The News & Observer

Responsible, Engaged Citizens: Age 16-18

This is a time for real-world experience and personal growth. Meador says that many organizations, like IFFS, appreciate when volunteers can really own a task—as in, stick to it and regularly volunteer. “We love all of our volunteers. When we get some that come regularly and know what to do, our staff really comes to rely on them and we can move forward, having a volunteer lead other volunteers—it allows more planning and growing,” she says. Encourage older teens to find an organization that aligns with their interests, so they can build a relationship.

No matter a child’s age, instilling a sense of responsibility towards their community is a worthwhile effort.