Now that school's back in session, there are more opportunities than ever to give back and make a real difference in your community. Consider service opportunities with one of these nonprofit organizations, which benefit school-age children, relieve the burden on struggling parents and help other members of the community too.
Big Brothers Big Sisters/Mentorship Programs
As millions of children begin another school year, many lack the crucial support they'll need to get through the year without falling behind. Some need positive adult role models in their lives, to show real interest in their academic progress and listen to whatever they have to say. Become a Big Sister or Big Brother by applying at your local Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) chapter. If you're accepted, you'll be matched with a child who lives nearby and commit to spending a certain amount of hours with them each month. Just being consistent and showing support can make a huge difference in a child's life. Plus, it could be one of the most rewarding things you ever do -- I know, as I served as a Big Brother to a wonderful young man for years.
Feeding America/Food Banks
Families throughout the United States have begun another school year without consistent access to fresh food, let alone school supplies. For some kids, food pantries and "food banks," such as Feeding America, are the only reliable way to get the nutrients and vitamins they need on a regular basis. You can gather food from friends and family to take to the sorting center or you could donate your time at the sorting center itself. Food pantries always need help dividing their donated goods into meals and categories, and weeding out the expired products. This is a very simple way to make a big difference in just one day; one volunteer can box hundreds of pounds' worth of donated cans, boxes and bags of food.
Humane Society/ASPCA/Animal Shelters
If you're looking for a good way to get kids or teens involved in service, you can depend on the universal appeal of animals. Spending time caring for helpless creatures is a great way to teach and encourage empathy, but it's also an enjoyable service opportunity to look forward to. You can be as hands-on (or off) as you'd like; shelters need all the help they can get, from walking dogs and cuddling cats to scrubbing cages and filling food bowls. If you have any particular skills, such as photography or writing, you might even be able to help them attract more people and encourage the community to adopt their next pets. Visit the ASPCA website for more info.
Nursing Homes and Hospice Centers
It's back to business as usual by the time September rolls around -- for most people. For residents of assisted living facilities, family visits aren't as frequent when everyone's busy. You can lend your talents in practical ways, such as performing a song or cleaning up the grounds or simply spend time getting to know people. A volunteer coordinator or nurse will be on hand to guide you through activities, introduce patients and put together a schedule; listen to what they tell you and take notes if necessary. To make a real difference, all you have to do is show up, show support and listen to interesting stories about long, important lives.
Volunteering is just as rewarding for the volunteer as it is for the people who benefit from their efforts. When you set aside time in your school-year schedule to help the less fortunate, you're making a selfless choice that pays off for you, too. Whether you need to meet service requirements or pad your resume -- or you just want to meet and get to know new people -- service is a productive way to pass the time. And if you find an organization that shares your values, it could be the beginning of a lifelong partnership.