‘Tis the season of giving, gifting and being grateful. Instead of just receiving this year, why not give thanks by giving back as a family. Beyond teaching your children gratitude, it will double as wonderful family time spent together.
Here are some places to get you started:
Chicago moms Kristina Lowenstein and Catherine Tannen wanted their children to learn firsthand about service, but were frustrated with the lack of volunteer opportunities for kids. So in 2011 they took matters into their own hands and founded The Honeycomb Project, which focuses on family volunteering in the Chicago area.
Honeycomb works with more than 45 organizations, providing hands-on opportunities for family volunteering at animal shelters, children’s hospitals, nature centers and more. The quality projects that bring together people of different ages and abilities so that they may develop a deeper understanding of local issues, share their skills and work toward a common goal. Many of the projects help at-risk, homeless and low-income individuals and families, and improve natural and recreational areas in underserved neighborhoods. Honeycomb’s goal is to promote activism from a young age and show kids that they can make a real, meaningful impact on their communities. All ages are welcome, but most projects are best suited for adults and their kids ages 5-13.
1658 N. Milwaukee Ave., #190, Chicago
The folks at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland & Northwest Indiana provide a home away from home every night for 153 families who are enduring difficult life situations. Due to the generosity of others, Ronald McDonald House can offer a welcoming place for families to rest, relax, have a home cooked meal and find the emotional support they need so they can focus 100 percent on their children in the hospital.
How can you help? Volunteer to host a Family Activities Night, or help with the Cookies and Meals from the Heart program where you visit the Ronald McDonald House near you to cook a meal or bake cookies. Another way to get involved is to collect items for the homes’ wish lists, which include snacks, toiletries and paper goods.
Find Ronald McDonald houses in Oak Lawn, Chicago, Hines, Naperville and Winfield
If you have cat lovers in your home, the Tree House Humane Society might be the perfect place to volunteer your time as a family. Tree House Humane Society is a cageless, no-kill organization specializing in the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured stray cats. The organization has helped rescue and adopt more than 25,000 cats. With less than eight full-time employees, Tree House Humane Society relies on the help of volunteers to keep their facility running. Kids under 18 can volunteer with their parents to help provide daily care to the cats, such as feeding, cleaning, grooming and playing with the 200 cats currently taking shelter there.
7225 N. Western Ave., Chicago
Looking for a fast and flexible family volunteer project? During the month of December, brighten the holiday season by visiting an isolated elder and delivering a special gift. Simply pick up the gifts at Little Brothers and deliver them in a neighborhood convenient for you. If you have more time to give, you and your family can volunteer to deliver monthly food bags or even get paired with an elderly person for regular bi-monthly visits. Children under 18 need to be accompanied by an adult.
355 N. Ashland Ave, Chicago
For many, the holiday season is filled with food aplenty, but there are others who are faced with the struggles of where they will get their next meal. The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s goal is to fight hunger one meal at a time. Last year, with the help of volunteers, the organization was able to distribute 70 million pounds of food to hungry people in Chicago.
A great opportunity to get involved is the monthly Kids’ Days at the Greater Chicago Food Depository where sessions are designed for families and groups with children ages 5-13. Families work to assemble food boxes for other families and really feel the impact of helping. Another option is hosting your own food drive with your family, neighbors or local organizations through myfooddrive.org.
4100 W. Ann Lurie Place, Chicago
All for Good is an amazing place to search for opportunities for volunteerism and community engagement. It was inspired by President Obama, who called on more Americans to serve, and Internet pioneer Craig Newmark, who saw the need for an online resource to help Americans easily find ways to serve. Think of it as a Craigslist for volunteering. All for Good is a digital hub where sites from across the web are pulled together to allow users to search by location, dates and keywords to find opportunities that best suit their volunteer wishes. Find everything from tutoring and reading poems to children, to donating used books.