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Kids can help, too: How Little Helping Hands encourages community service in children

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A volunteer family plants flowers at Eilers Park. Courtesy of Little Helping Hands
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4-year old volunteer and his mom help pick up trash/litter at Lady Bird Lake participating in Keep Austin Beautiful's Clean Sweep. Over 5,000 community volunteers came out at 130+ sites around Austin for this annual KAB event. Courtesy of Little Helping Hands
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3-year old volunteer helps make sandwiches for clients of Caritas of Austin. Courtesy of Little Helping Hands
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Little Helping Hands founder Marissa Vogel with her two children. Courtesy of Little Helping Hands
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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_ little hands_april 2012_2
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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley_ little hands_april 2012_1

When Marissa Vogel's young daughter started coming home from preschool and showing her schoolwork, it dawned on her that she wasn’t giving the four-year-old enough credit. The work showed amazing examples of comprehension.

"She could understand much more than I thought she could and had a skill set to match," Vogel recalls. "She was so eager to learn and wanted constant exposure to work; I decided that it was time to start teaching her about compassion and social responsibility through community service activities."

So Vogel did what most of us do today when we want to find something — she got on the Internet, searching for meaningful volunteer opportunities that she could do with her young daughter. But she had no luck.
 
Families can sign up for volunteer activities suitable for children as young as three years old, making it simple for parents and other caregivers who want to expose children to the rewards of community service at a young age.
"My wish was to go to a single online resource to find volunteer opportunities appropriate for her age and to be able to sign up for them easily. After surveying parents within the Austin community, I confirmed that I wasn’t alone."
 
In Vogel's survey, 100% of respondents indicated that an online resource for volunteering with their children would be considered either very valuable or valuable. Moreover, over 70% indicated that this online resource would likely encourage parents to volunteer with their children more often. And other research shows that this is the case; people are much more likely to volunteer throughout their lifetimes if they volunteer as a child. This likelihood increases when children volunteer with their family.
 
At the end of June 2009, Vogel launched Little Helping Hands to meet this need. At the website, families can sign up for volunteer activities suitable for children as young as three years old, making it simple for parents and other caregivers who want to expose children to the rewards of community service at a young age.
 
After nearly three years of operations it is clear the impact Little Helping Hands is making on the children who are growing up volunteering and their families.
 
"I think volunteering with the kids in particular is important, to teach them about giving back," says Cindy Santiesteban, a parent who has volunteered with her children. "Volunteering with Little Helping Hands gives us the opportunity to do that; they volunteer with similar-aged children, and it's fun for them as well. It's definitely made them see the world differently, and think about people and giving differently."
 
The kids themselves report the impact it's had on them; one girl said she enjoyed preparing food for the homeless, and a boy admitted that he liked the computer recycling work because he liked demolishing things and putting them back together. 
 
"I've learned that litter is a bad thing for our earth," one young volunteer says, who listed trash clean-up as his favorite volunteer activity. "I want the earth to be a good planet."
 
Family volunteering provides an opportunity to:
  • Help your child develop compassion, understanding of others, and respect for our environment.
  • Spend quality time with your family by engaging in meaningful, hands-on community service activities.
  • Pass along important values, attitudes, and beliefs.
  • Support future generations of community volunteers.  Studies show that children who volunteer are much more likely to continue as adults and carry on the tradition with their own children.
In 2011, Little Helping Hands organized 330 volunteer activities that served 48 organizations or groups. 2,400 children and their families logged over 5,000 volunteer hours doing everything from serving food to the homeless, sorting donations, visiting the elderly, breaking down computers and city or park beautification projects.
 
"Reality is that our lives are busy, especially as parents of young children," Vogel says. "But making volunteerism part of our regular routine is how we can best ensure we not only instill within our children the values of giving back and helping others, but get the added benefit of spending quality time together as a family. Educating children on volunteerism starts with conversations in the home and the learning starts by doing."
 
If you are interested in volunteering with your children, you can go to the Little Helping Hands event calendar to see what types of activities are coming up, or simply register to volunteer.

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