The week before school started, my two sons and I were tired of pools, heat, and each other. Video games and TV shows had lost their charm. Then, my 11 year boy, soon to be a 6th grader, demanded that I buy him $100 dollars in video game gems so he could win the battle. When I refused, he devolved into a full blown temper tantrum since I said no. “What, are we poor?” he whined.
No, we are very lucky. However, my family lives in an upper middle-class bubble surrounded by equally lucky families. One of the best ways for children and teens to develop compassion and see how less fortunate families live is to volunteer.
Once we have settled into the school routine, I want for my 11 year old to volunteer at a food bank or other organization that helps the poor. My son needs to see how lucky he is.
Houston has lots of wonderful charitable organizations that provide opportunities for teens and some middle schoolers the chance to give back. Another advance for teens is that significant community service and volunteering make them more attractive on college applications.
- Houston SPCA, www.houstonspca.org. This great animal rescue organization accepts teens ages 15 and older. There is an orientation session and the SPCA requires a two hour per week time commitment. Teens will help clean cages, walk animals, and assist people with adopting pets.
- Houston Food Bank, www.houstonfoodbank.org. Teens ages 16 to 18 can help in the warehouse or at the Keegan Center Kitchen to provide food to other soup kitchens and food banks in the area. An application and a waiver are required. There is also a 12 week “Student Heroes” program to develop customer service skills.
- Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts, www.meca-houston.org. This entity accepts teens ages 16 and up to help as tutors, mentors, or to help during special events.
- Volunteer Houston, http://volunteerhouston.org/. This group helps teens and others connect with various service opportunities.
- SIRE Therapeutic Horsemanship, http://sire-htec.org/volunteering/. Teens ages 14 and older can help this organization provide services to the disabled with horse riding therapy. There are locations in Richmond, Spring and Hockley.
- American Red Cross in Houston, http://www.redcross.org/local/texas/gulf-coast/volunteer/youth-opportunities. There are lots of opportunities for high school student to give back through this notable organization.
- Houston Methodist Caring Teen Volunteer Program, http://www.houstonmethodist.org/giving/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities/texas-medical-center/caring-teens/. Teens ages 15 to 18 can apply to help in the hospital with administrative tasks, delivering items to patients and lots of other necessary, age appropriate tasks.
- Citizens for Animal Protection, http://www.cap4pets.org/support-us/volunteer. This is another wonderful animal focused entity. Teens age 14 and older can volunteer.
The choices for children under 14 are limited because a lot of volunteering involves very physical work and/or is placed in settings that may be inappropriate for younger ones.
For Elementary Age and Older:
- Autumn Grove Cottage, www.autumngrove.com. This entity accepts volunteers ages 5 and older. Children play games and spend time with Alzheimer’s patients.
- Buffalo Bayou Partnership, http://buffalobayou.org/get-involved/volunteer/. Children ages 9 – 17 can volunteer with a chaperone. There are lots of natural areas to help with in the Houston area.
- Lunches of Love, http://lunchesoflove.net/.
All ages are welcome to help this charity provide free sack lunches to underprivileged children in Fort Bend County. I did this with my kids by decorated paper lunch sacks with drawings and stickers. Then we stuffed the sacks. It was lots of fun and very easy. If you looking for a service project to bring to a group, Lunches of Love will provide supplies and come to your location.
My older son did get to visit a nursing home in the Katy area as part of 5th grade choir. He has asked me if he can go back and visit the residents. He really enjoyed spending time with the senior citizens and they loved the attention for fresh faced youngsters.
Volunteering and charity work are easily overlooked by parents as an activity for children. Texans are so focused on paying for classes, camps, toys, and gadgets; it is easy to forget that there are dozens of non-profits organizations who would love some help from children and adults.
Check out the above listed places to make a difference today. How would you like to help others in the community? Tell us in the comments.
-By Cynthia Marple