Volunteer as a Family

Article by Dr. Patricia Nabti 

Informal family volunteering has been a cultural tradition in Lebanon for a very long time. Adults in the past often had their children join them when they went to help an elderly person in their community, and the extended family often came together to work on community projects, a tradition called “awni” in Arabic. Much of that still happens in Lebanon, especially in small villages. But few organizations, if any, actively recruit families to volunteer or consciously create volunteer opportunities for families.

What Constitutes a “Family” for “Family Volunteering”?

A simple definition of “family” is any two or more people who have a close and ongoing relationship which they view as a family.This includes nuclear, extended, and blended families – spouses, parents, children, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, in-laws, and step parents and children.They can be people of one generation like most siblings and cousins or of many generations like children, parents, and grandparents.

Types of Family Volunteering

Family volunteering can include:

  1. Members of a family who work together on one task like doing a skit or playing in a quartet for a senior care HOME or orphanage.
  2. Members of a family who do the same volunteer task at different times, rotating responsibility, like providing care for a HOME-bound senior on different days of the week.
  3. Members of a family who do different tasks for the same event, like working on a fundraising dinner in which one member of the family checks people in at the door, another sells raffle tickets, and another serves people at their tables.
  4. Multiple families who work together at an event like cleaning a beach or planting flowers in a park.

Why Volunteer as a Family?

There are a lot of great reasons for families to volunteer. It provides opportunities for positive family activities, strengthens family bonds, provides subjects for meaningful conversations, and offers a low cost way to have special experiences and fun together.

For parents, it helps them develop in their children the values of compassion, empathy, and responsibility through active learning and role modeling. It develops their children’s skills and self-esteem. And children  can learn to appreciate diversity by crossing social boundaries of age, religion, sect, ethnicity, region or abilities through service. It can also assure that children reap the proven benefits of youth volunteering – that they are less likely to smoke, drink, do drugs, and drop out of school, while they are more likely to do well in school, be more positive at HOME, and feel capable and self-confident.

Family volunteering can take place after school, on weekends, during holidays, or even be the focus of a volunteer vacation within the country or abroad. The experience could be a one-time activity or be ongoing. It could require no advanced planning or be carefully planned.

Parents should give children a voice in what volunteer activity they do whenever possible, and be sure the activity is age-appropriate and capitalizes on their children’s interests and abilities. Parents may want to allow their children to invite friends, though this can detract from the family bonding aspect of the experience. And they may want to combine the volunteering experience with a post-service activity like going out to lunch or visiting a park. Most importantly, they should take the time after they are done to reflect together on the experience in order to maximize its learning value.

Why NGOs Might Want to Encourage Family Volunteering

There are many potential benefits for organizations that engage family volunteers.

It expands the pool of volunteers by encouraging its volunteers to bring family members with them. It allows family caregivers to volunteer while drawing in those they are caring for to help, whether these are children, seniors, or people with disabilities. In some cases family volunteering brings special benefits – for example, children can delight seniors and relate better to children their age.

For organizations that want to recruit families, they might want to require a minimum age or include opportunities that engage smaller children. They should provide some kind of guide that explains the responsibilities that the adults in a family need to take to assure the safety and supervision of the younger or less able members of their group. And parents can prepare children for what to expect, how to behave, and what to bring, and can explain the importance of the service they are doing.

Corporate Family Volunteering

Family volunteering can be an important part of a corporate volunteer program. Rather than taking employees away from their families, it can provide employees with structured opportunities for family interaction. Among its benefits to the company, family volunteering has been found to generate greater  employee contentment and commitment, improved public and community relations, and fewer hours lost for family responsibilities.

Family volunteering clearly benefits families while it benefits the individuals, organizations, and communities they serve.

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