Families Find Unity Volunteering Together
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One company with a long history of volunteerism, Target Stores in Minneapolis, encourages employees to include family members in community service. Activities range from ''paint-a- thons'' - painting houses for low-income homeowners - to taking disadvantaged children to the zoo or cultural programs.Skip to next paragraph
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''We've had wonderful response,'' says Target's Carolyn Brookter. ''By including family members, employees find volunteering to be more important.''
Lohman cites other benefits. ''I've talked to several families who say they believe that family volunteering has kept their family together,'' she says. ''That's a pretty powerful statement. They see each other now in a different way and value each other in new ways.'' She also tells of a 16-year-old girl in Colorado who said, ''I know how to talk to adults now. None of my friends do.'' The teenager, Lohman explains, ''felt she learned that skill through volunteering with her family.''
Often, Lohman adds, children get parents involved, rather than the other way around. ''They may have a project in school, perhaps something involving environmental volunteerism,'' she says. ''Kids decide they want to do it and recruit their parents.''
For Randy Dostal of Silver Lake, Minn., family volunteering takes two forms. As a staffing specialist at Hutchinson Technology in Hutchinson, Minn., he encourages employees to include their families in corporate volunteer activities.
As a parent, he also considers volunteering an essential family activity. He and his wife and their six children, who range from 7 to 17, devote many hours each week to 4-H, church, school, and community activities.
''I was always brought up on volunteerism,'' Mr. Dostal says. ''My parents did it, and I guess it just rubbed off on me. If I can give something back or do something for someone, it makes me feel good all over.''
Beyond the altruistic lessons children learn, Dostal sees other benefits in family volunteering. ''It's made our children more outgoing,'' he says. ''They're able to work with anyone, no matter what race or nationality. They're willing to do things without anyone having to pressure them. They don't say no very often. As they go on to college and then get jobs, volunteering is going to make a big difference in their lives.''
Sometimes family volunteering brings economic benefits as well. With nine people spanning three generations in her household, Sharon Gage of Lino Lakes, Minn., finds volunteering at a Fair Share cooperative an ideal way to spend time as a family and also reduce grocery bills by shopping there herself.
Even little kids can help
''It's something we can do together on a Saturday morning, instead of spending time in front of the TV,'' Mrs. Gage says. Family Day, when volunteers divide bulk food into smaller quantities, ''mixes kids and grandparents and all ages together. Even little kids can put six apples in a bag or measure two cups of oatmeal.''
Spaide emphasizes the importance of giving children volunteer projects that allow them to see results quickly. Calling this ''hands-on charity,'' she offers as an example ''making a peanut butter sandwich and handing it to someone who's hungry.'' Least effective for children, is what's she describes as ''abstract charity.'' She explains, ''It's not meaningful for children to just hand over their money and not be able to understand how it's going to help.''
For families interested in volunteering, Spaide suggests calling soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and nursing homes to ask what they need. Corporate volunteer programs, youth groups, and churches also offer avenues for service.
Summing up three advantages of family volunteering, Lohman says, ''It obviously benefits the community that's served. It benefits the family for serving together. And it benefits each individual in the family. How can you lose?''