The friendly people. The (usually) sunny skies. The acceptance of all things “weird”. The music scene. The abundance of fun things to do.
There are countless reasons why people fall in love with Austin, move here and stay for a while. When’s the last time you showed our city some love?
Life is busy. I get that. In between work, family obligations and needed down time, volunteering can often get piled up in the mountain of “shoulds” (I should exercise, I should clean my house, I should return those holiday gifts…oh, wait, maybe that’s just me…)
It can also be difficult to find volunteer activities you can do with your family. Although we have over 5,000 nonprofit organizations in Austin and the surrounding counties (and more per capita than any other area in the Southwest United States!), many have few staff or simply don’t have the mechanisms in place to put your little ones to use.
That’s why we’ve done the research for you, in order to help you give back to help make our town an even better place.
Little Helping Hands: A Starting Point
Little Helping Hands has an online activity calendar with different ways families can get involved, from helping prepare food donations at the Hope Food Pantry to preparing lunch for guests at the Ronald McDonald House to planting trees. Activities fill up quickly, so it’s best to get on the organization’s email list to have first dibs on activities (you can also sign up for an activity’s waitlist, and since cancellations do occur, you can find open spots anytime). The great part about Little Helping Hands is that the activities are really geared towards kids: they are usually around an hour, in deference to short attention spans; kids receive a tracking card to earn Amy’s ice cream (bonus!) and the organization sends out reflection questions to help your children process the experience.
Virtual volunteering: Big Hearted Families
Big Hearted Families is a partnership between Little Helping Hands, Doing Good Together and The Volunteer Family to provide a comprehensive set of resources to raise service-minded children. You can select from dozens of activities from categories such as Provide Comfort, Heal the Earth, Care for Animals and Fight Poverty. One of our favorite activities was making birdseed cookies during the winter with materials we had around the house. One of the ideas I found out about through the organization that I loved was the idea of Dessert Fridays. A mom and her children pick a decadent-looking dessert at the start of the week and look forward to Friday. After making and enjoying the dessert, the family splits up the leftovers and gives them to the mail man, the bus driver, neighbors and friends from school. What a nice kindness tradition, similar to this activity.
It Doesn’t Have to Be Big: Random Acts of Kindness Week
Another reason we don’t do more volunteering is that I envision it as a big, time consuming project. In fact, this week is Random Acts of Kindness Week, a campaign to encourage all of us to step out of our comfort zone to attempt a new random act of kindness each day of the week. There are hundreds of ideas on the site, but a few examples which caught my eye were to pick up trash (you could even bring an empty bag and disposable gloves to the park and all get in on the act), mail someone a letter (maybe a thank you note to a teacher or just a letter to a friend or family member) and leaving nice sticky notes in public places. Kami Wilt of the Austin Tinkering School suggested taking advantage of our cold days to make homemade Valentines and hang them up around town.
Here are other local organizations and entities which welcome volunteer families:
Art City Austin – Art City Austin is a weekend-long arts festival which will take place on April 12th and 13th. If students would like to sign up as a group, it’s best to email [email protected] so they can set up a schedule that allows the whole group to get times/shifts where they’ll be volunteering together. Individuals and families can go to this website to choose and sign up for a shift. Not all volunteer tasks are kid-friendly, but Go Green, which helps encourage festival-goers to recycle their waste, might be a good choice for a family.
Austin Animal Center – The volunteer program is open to ages 13 and up. If your child is between the ages of 13-15, an adult must volunteer with the child. If the child is at least 15 years old, another adult must attend orientation with your child. Volunteers are required to volunteer at least six hours per month. A volunteer application is available online.
Austin Atheists Helping the Homeless – Once a month, the group distributes toiletries, clothing, personal care supplies and books to the homeless. Volunteers help stock items and run the tables. Giveaways usually last an hour and all ages are welcome. RSVPs are welcome, but not required.
Austin Empty Bowl Project – Volunteers are recruited for their once-yearly event. Registration for 2014 will not begin until October. Volunteers must be at least 16 years old and willing to spend at least two hours working at the event. Children younger than 16 may volunteer if accompanied by a parent (one child per parent).
Austin Humane Society – Volunteers must be at least 14 years of age. Fourteen and 15 year-olds must be accompanied by an adult while volunteering, and 16 and 17-year-olds can volunteer independently with a parent’s permission. Orientations are twice a month. After orientation, volunteers must attend a training session. Children under 14 who would like to be involved can participate in Humane Heroes to support the Society through projects, such as making toys for the animals.
Austin Parks Foundation – This nonprofit hosts volunteer opportunities year-round, but its signature event is It’s My Park Day, a city-wide event held the first Saturday of March to improve parks and greenbelts around the city. Two other activities which are coming up which are also family-friendly are Seed Island Planting at Tarrytown Park on February 15th and at Bartholomew Park on February 22nd. Online RSVPs are required.
Austin Pets Alive! – Volunteers must be 13 or older, and those under 18 must be supervised by a parent or obtain a waiver. Volunteers must submit an online application, attend an orientation session and commit to 8 volunteer hours per month.
Austin Public Library – Volunteers must be 13 or older and be willing to make a commitment of at least four months. Orientation and training is provided. Duties include book shelving, filing, data entry, research assistance and more. Volunteers who complete over 50 hours are eligible for a letter of reference. Volunteers with over 100 hours of service receive a nameplate.
Capital Area Food Bank – The Food Bank accepts volunteers as young as 8. Any individual youth volunteer between 8 and 17 must be accompanied by an adult 21 or older. Youth groups must provide one adult chaperone for every 5 youth under the age of 18.
City of Austin Storm Drain Marking – This program is a hands-on project for volunteers who are interested in educating the public about pollution prevention. To help prevent dumping in storm drains, volunteers place markers on the drains as a visual reminder that the storm drains run directly to our creeks. Families can participate year-round, and just need to provide the City with one week notice and come in for a 5-10 minute orientation before checking out the kit for a month.
The Contemporary Austin – Volunteers ages 13 and up are used in the children’s classes at the Art School. Volunteers must enjoy working with children and be willing to attend all classes.
Friends of Barton Springs – February 22nd is Spring Cleaning at Barton Springs, so that the pool can get spiffed up before reopening. Families are invited to participate, and tasks include cleaning stair rails and sidewalls, trimming weeds and plants near diving board area, painting bathroom facilities, planting around the pool grounds, painting benches and trim, repairing pool and grounds equipment and generally lending a hand to make the pool and grounds as clean and beautiful as possible. Online registration is available. If you can’t make that date, you can sign up for one of the monthly pool cleanings.
Goodwill’s GreenWorks Program – Goodwill takes volunteers of all ages on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays to disassemble donated computers which will be resold or recycled. No experience is needed, and training and tools are available onsite. Families can fill out a Volunteer Application to get started.
Keep Austin Beautiful – The organization’s largest volunteer effort each year is Clean Sweep, a city-wide day of service followed by a volunteer party and environmental fair. This year’s Clean Sweep is taking place on Saturday, April 12th. Volunteer registration opens March 1st. Keep Austin Beautiful also organizes large-scale cleanups of Lady Bird Lake every other month. Families (or, a small group of families) could Adopt-a-Creek or Adopt-a-Street in their part of town — or in a different part of town.
Meals on Wheels and More – Families can sign up to deliver meals to seniors and homebound clients. To volunteer, you must complete an application and attend an orientation. In addition to regular deliveries, you can also sign up to deliver an extra bag of groceries once a month or even deliver pet food monthly for clients.
Mobile Loaves & Fishes – Make Ready Teams commit to a once per month service, which involves preparing sandwiches and loading the truck with clothing, food and toiletries. Truck Teams serve the homeless and working poor by going to locations such as government housing, intersections, parks and transitional housing. Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Several businesses donate bread and pastries and volunteers are needed to pick up these items weekly and bring them to the commissary.
Seton Healthcare Family – Got any knitting kids? Baby items are needed for infant patients. Got a lovable pooch? Perhaps he or she might want to be a pet therapy dog. Other opportunities may be available at the location closest to you.
Tree Folks – Children can volunteer with their families at upcoming events in Bastrop and Austin. The organization does request that children under the age of 17 be accompanied by adults and that there is a one adult per two child ratio in your group. Also, due to dangers with tools, planting holes and other hazards with nature, especially in post-fire areas in Bastrop, children must be monitored at all times during planting events.
Urban Roots – Children 10-13 years old must be accompanied by an adult. All minors under 18 who are not accompanied by a parent/guardian must have a signed parental consent form on file with Urban Roots.
What volunteering do you do as a family?
A recovering workaholic, Nicole Basham now spends her time rediscovering Austin through her almost-8-year-old son’s eyes. A soccer-playing mom, Nicole also enjoys tickling too close to bedtime, making and consuming baked goods, and being silly. You can also find her writing at LiveMom and Savvy Source for Parents.