Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Book Review: The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering

You may have noticed I've devoted a lot of time to volunteering lately. That's because Christmas is about giving, and I'd like to extend that giving attitude throughout the year. It's a value that's important to my family, along with empathy, empowerment and other lessons you can learn by volunteering.

I'm reading several books on the subject, but by far my favorite is The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering, written by Jenny Friedman.

Friedman should know about family volunteering. She and her family have been doing it for more than 15 years. She's also the founder of Doing Good Together, an organization dedicated to inspring and helping families volunteer.

She's built a very convincing case for why volunteering matters and why it should be a family activity.

If you believe you don't have time, Friedman points out that volunteering offers a wide-range of options. You could simply dedicate one day a year - or even one half-hour a year, if you wanted. She also argues that once you try it, it'll quickly move from another thing "you have to do" to an experience you anticipate because it reaps so many benefits. Here's what she says your family will get from the experience:

  • Opportunities to teach values.
  • Feeling part of your community.
  • Improving your children's self esteem, because they see that they can contribute and help.
  • Strengthened family bonds.
  • Opportunities for your children to see the impact of serious things you'd normally only preach about - such as not smoking, unprotected sex, and appreciating what you have.
  • Teach children about the environment, medical field, and other potential career areas in a hands-on setting.

She also anticipates the hesitations parents will have about volunteering and addresses them, including "My children aren't interested" and "My children are too young."

The rest of the book looks at how to pick a cause, how to prepare your children, and chapters devoted to specific causes, such as building community, healing the environment, fighting poverty, social action and volunteer vacations.

But what I found most helpful is the Appendix, which offers ideas for family projects, quick projects your family can do in an hour, an afternoon or a day without any preparation, and a developmental timetable that gives you age-appropriate ideas.

There's even a section on volunteering based on holidays, a great approach that will provide multiple volunteering activites without over-committing your family.

All of which make this book a great resource for years to come. It's definitely Family Bookshelf material. However, if you're not a book person, do explore her organization's website, Doing Good Together, which offers much of the same information, but for free!

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