Volunteering: A Family EffortParents are busy. Period. Believe me, as the mommy of a 4 year old and a 1 year old, I understand! Sometimes it's easy to get caught up in busy, everyday, life and forget to make time for things that we should. For me, volunteering used to be one of those things. I volunteered often, for many different causes and organizations, before I had a family. Once my kids were born, it seemed so much harder! Last year I had an epiphany; why did I need to volunteer without my kids? Why wouldn't my kids get just as much from volunteering as I do? Well, they do, of course. And once I figured that out, I started seeking out volunteer opportunities where my kids could help. I love the lessons my children learn every time we volunteer. They learn to care about other people instead of thinking only of themselves. They learn how to work as a team to complete a task (and wow, does that help out with sibling interaction!) Some volunteer opportunities involve exercise and the great outdoors. And the feeling of accomplishing something great, together as a family, is pretty much unbeatable.
Most of my volunteer efforts are as a Bountiful Baskets volunteer site coordinator. If you're not familiar with Bountiful Baskets, then a) I know you haven't read any of my blogs, and b) you should check out the website at www.bountifulbaskets.org. Bountiful Baskets makes volunteering easy. You must have contributed for a basket, and you have to show up at the volunteer time for your site, which is typically (but not always) an hour before the pickup time. Children under 12 aren't allowed to handle the produce. That's a pretty great rule, actually, because it means that my 4 year old doesn't throw your apples around before you get them. But just because they can't handle the fruits and veggies doesn't mean that there is nothing they can do. My kids are busy the whole time we're there. Sometimes they're busy playing in a box (like my son in the above picture), but most of the time they are hard at work. They stack baskets, crush boxes, deliver the bad produce to ZooMontana for animal feed, and a hundred other small jobs. My baby is often strapped to me in his carrier, and he smiles and happily blows bubbles and waves at all the participants. My slightly bossy preschooler's favorite job is to be line leader, and tell all the participants where the line forms as they arrive. It's a perfect task for him. My stepdaughter is 10 and she loves to help people to their cars, answer questions, and do anything else she can. By the time she's 12 and can handle the produce, she will know as much as I do about running the site. Maybe more.
I love what volunteering has done for my family. We spend time working on something good, together. My kids see my husband and I working hard, not for a reward, but because it's important. We're outside exercising at least once a week. We meet other people who want to give instead of take, some of whom have quickly become our friends. It's now an essential part of our week and I wouldn't change that for anything.
There are many volunteer opportunities for you and your family here in the Billings area, and it isn't hard to find them. If you'd like a more structured volunteer environment, you can contact our local United Way (www.unitedwayyellowstone.org), Family Service, Inc. (www.famserv.com), or Habitat for Humanity (www.billingshabitat.org), just to name a few. If you'd like to do something smaller, check with your church or school. And if you'd like to do some informal good with your family, make regular visits to local nursing homes. Volunteer opportunities are everywhere, if you look. Once you make volunteering a family effort, you'll find that the quality of the time spent together makes it easy to etch out a few hours a week in your busy schedule. Take it from me, it's so worth it.