Family philanthropy: Giving back together

2013-09-05T11:00:00Z 2013-09-10T12:18:04Z Family philanthropy: Giving back togetherChristine Bryant
September 05, 2013 11:00 am  • 

One of the best ways to encourage a child to volunteer is to give back together, and in the Northwest Indiana region, there are several opportunities for family philanthropy.

Attend Events

Special events are some of the easiest - and most fun - opportunities where families with members of all ages can volunteer, said Kathy Wojkovich, director of the United Way Regional Volunteer Center in Valparaiso.

"With walks or runs, you can have a father timing, a mother working registration and kids handing out water," she said. "Those kinds of atmospheres are fun, and are great ways to involve the whole family."

Here are a few upcoming events:

* Opportunity Enterprises is hosting a pack-a-thon from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 14 in which families can volunteer to pack runner bags for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

About 800 volunteers will pack 43,000 bags in one day, and the event is open to everyone 8 and older. For more information go to

* Adopt-a-Beach is a great way for families to clean up their community beaches along Lake Michigan.

Katie Hanson, Adopt-a-Beach program assistant for Alliance for the Great Lakes, said the organization is need of volunteers and team leaders for Indiana beaches as part of the Ocean Conservancy's annual International Coastal Cleanup day.

This year's event is scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 21, and more than 3,000 volunteers from across the Great Lakes states will join together on the beaches to pick up litter and keep the Great Lakes healthy.

Families have two options, she said.

"You and your group could volunteer to pick up and tally litter at a beach with an already scheduled event," she said. "Or you can become a team leader at a beach that does not currently have an event scheduled."

For more information, go to or call (312) 445-9760.

* Walk MS: Northwest Indiana will take place Sept. 15 at Wicker Memorial Park in Highland. The event raises awareness about multiple sclerosis. For more information, go to

Help Animals

Most children love animals - making it the perfect spot for families to give back together.

Stephanie Peterson, with Humane Society Calumet Area in Munster, said the animal shelter mostly sees children help out at special events, but those 8 and older are welcome to assist at the shelter as well if accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Some shelters do not allow younger volunteers, but will allow older teenagers, so check with your local humane society for its volunteer guidelines.

Give back to other families

The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana has a wide variety of activities for families, said Megan Sikes, communication and advocacy manager for the food bank in Gary.

"Our two most popular projects are helping to pack food bags for our Backpack program, which feeds kids over the weekends during the school year, and our Pantry on the Go program where we go out and set up temporary food pantries throughout the community," she said.

The organization, which requires volunteers be at least 7 years of age, also uses volunteers to help sort food drives, help out at different food bank events or assist the office staff with large mailings or other projects.

Those looking to gain some construction skills and give back to other families can also volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, which builds houses for families in need here in the United States and abroad.

Families that have children age 16 and older can volunteer on the worksite, said Cody Logsdon, associate director of U.S. volunteer programs.

"They can also go on Global Village trips, which are Habitat for Humanity's short-term mission trip program," she said. "On Global Village trips, families travel internationally or domestically and spend one to two weeks building in a new community."

Families with children older than 14 can volunteer on projects like painting and landscaping, or helping at a Habitat ReStore. Those with children younger than 14 can get involved in fundraising and advocacy projects, she said.

"They can also do small building projects like making benches, birdhouses or flower boxes," Logsdon said.

For more information on the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana or Habitat for Humanity, go to or

Other ideas

Meals on Wheels is another great opportunity for families to give back together, Wojkovich said.

"It will be an eye opening experience for the kids," she said. "It will have a lasting impact on them."

Families also can look into volunteering at their local homework help centers - often held at libraries or within the school districts.

"Kids love when someone mentors them because so many of these kids don't have that," Wojkovich said.

Another option for families is volunteering at senior citizen homes or nursing care facilities, where they can visit with residents, perform by singing or playing instruments, or teach a hobby.

"Share a craft with them - many of whom never get company," she said.

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