Volunteering as a family can be a wonderful experience leading to many valuable life-lessons and rewarding experiences. Setting your children up to be life-long volunteers can start as young as being a newborn!
Lynn and Jean are the founders of Toddlers and Kids on a Mission (TOAM) – a local non-profit in Milwaukee that offers volunteer opportunities for families to engage in together.
We chatted with Jean to learn more about TOAM and how you can get involved with your family.
Tell us about TOAM and how it began.
TOAM began out of a collaborative desire by Lynn and Jean to create a volunteer experience that they could participate in with their children. They met at a local playgroup and became friends bonding over similar experiences. You can read more here.
Anyone can volunteer with their kids, but it helps to have support. Working with an organization like ours or volunteering at a spot with friends and family help to really make it special for your kids.
Lynn and I could never have done this on our own. It was our partnership that helped us through, especially during the beginning stages.
Share with us some of the benefits of children volunteering at a young age.
There are so many research studies that have been done on the benefits of volunteering at any age. The benefits include mental and physical health, friendships, responsibility, and so much more.
When we talk with families about why we volunteer, we tend to use our own experiences. Lynn and I both were young volunteers alongside our mothers. Our early experiences shaped our worldview and influenced our later decisions to enter the field of education and now, in our parenting choices.
Volunteering has helped my children find things they’re passionate about (my daughter cares deeply about animals, and my son responds strongly to any sort of project for people who are homeless). It’s taught them valuable lessons about the diversity of the human experience.
Now that they’re getting older and sometimes hear about scary current events, we find ourselves talking about deeper issues. While still concerned, they wholeheartedly believe me when I tell them that there are helpers there who are making it better. They believe it because they see it all over our city when they volunteer.
What is the best age range of kid volunteers?
It depends! We’ve seen 6-week-olds through adults volunteer. What really matters is that a child feels a connection to a project (and it might not be what the parent expects).
A 6-week-old strapped to their parents’ chest allows a parent to get out of the house and interact with like-minded people. A 9-month-old can bring huge smiles to faces of elderly residents at a playgroup in a retirement home. A toddler loves assembly line projects like packing lunches for a kids gardening program (just make sure they’re dropping fruit that doesn’t bruise into those paper sacks!).
What kind of events could my family volunteer for?
As a family, you want to look at your schedule and interests first.
Are you a weekend volunteer? Do you like outdoor volunteering or lots of social interaction? If a family wants to volunteer with us, they have weekend and weekday options.
We offer recurring playgroups with the elderly and refugee-status families. We have events related to literacy, environmentalism, veterans, food insecurity, homelessness, and more.
Because we are an organization guided and planned by a leadership team, our events tend to follow the passions of our project managers.
I’d like to participate. How do I get involved?
Yay! Visit our website at toammke.org and look on our ‘Upcoming’ page.
Join TOAM and make a difference!
We’d love to see you at one of our projects. Sometimes it takes a little courage to jump in and try something new with your child.
Please check us out on our website or Facebook first and then… jump in! You won’t regret your chance to meet some wonderful helpers in our city.
A special thanks to Jean Heffernan of TOAM for her collaboration on this article.