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A desire to give back is something many parents hope to instill in their children. But expressing it verbally and modeling it for them can make a big difference. If kids see their parents getting involved and volunteering, they’re more likely to do so themselves.

Working together as parent and child to volunteer together goes beyond the obvious benefits to whatever community organization or charity they’re working for. It creates quality time to engage with one another, it encourages bonding and plants a seed in a child’s mind that giving back is gratifying and worth whatever sacrifice of time or resources you may be giving. It makes them more likely to continue to give back throughout their life.

Dr. Louis Kraus, Woman’s Board professor and chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and director of Forensic Psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, believes community service should be a high school graduation retirement.

“I think it’s an important thing for kids to see as part of growth and development and the concept of a parent volunteering with a child in middle school or high school, I think, is wonderful,” he said. “I have seen it even in late elementary school and even in younger kids they get a lot of out of doing it. They start to appreciate more what they have. Whatever their lifestyle may be, it allows them to see what it’s like for others who don’t have what they have, and they can see that life can be a much bigger struggle.”

Perhaps the most crucial ripple effect of volunteering, according to Kraus, is what happens afterwards in the communication between parent and child as a result.

“It offers a wonderful level of bonding in regards to doing a novel activity,” he said. “It can open levels of conversations that may not have been there before.”

Here are five ways to volunteer in the Region with your kids:

Meals on Wheels

Meals on Wheels Volunteer Manager Joan Vith noted two ways that kids and parents can help together.

While the organization has a lot of teenagers help out in the summer months, one activity younger children can do is to decorate brown bags that are used to transport beverages and side salads. Bags can be picked up and decorated at home all year long with seasonal decorations, inspirational quotes or other artwork, and returned to the Meals on Wheels office. About 800 bags are used each weekday, so there is always a need for bag decorating volunteers.

Another way that parents and children can get involved in helping with Meals on Wheels is by doing deliveries together. All adults must undergo training before delivering and once training is complete, adults can bring kids along on deliveries during school holidays and breaks.

“We have several grandparents who bring kids with them when they are off school, and the clients love it because they don’t get to see kids very often,” she said. “And the kids get to see how good it makes them feel. It’s very rewarding and very helpful to us.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities with Meals on Wheels, call 219-756-3663.

Humane societes and animal shelters

Contact your local animal shelter, which can often use extra help with animals from kids as well as adults. That can include walking dogs, playing with animals or reading to them, which helps kids connect with animals while improving their reading skills.

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A parent/child duo can also arrange a donation drive together to help provide supplies needed to care for animals at the shelters.

Local libraries

Check with your local library on ways to help out.

Within the Lake County Public Library system, Marketing Manager Jennifer Burnison said there are a couple ways that a parent/child pair can volunteer at the Merrillville branch.

You can opt to be part of the “Adopt-A-Shelf” program and monitor it to make sure books stay in order or let staff know if they have damage. There’s also a book sale room where adults can help out, and they are welcome to bring kids to assist them.

Food Bank of Northwest Indiana

“Families with children as young as 8 years old are welcome to volunteer at the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana,” said Emily Cutka, director of community partnerships. “And volunteering is a great way to strengthen family bonds, all while making a difference in our community.”

About 22,000 families receive assistance through the agencies each month in Lake and Porter counties. The food bank relies on about 2,000 volunteers to get food to those who need it most.

Volunteer opportunities for parents and kids to do together include packing boxes for seniors, packing backpacks with weekend food essentials for kids and distributing food directly to families in need at the weekly Mobile Markets.

For more information, call 219-980-1777.

Visit a nursing home

There are many residents at area nursing homes who do not have regular visitors. Potential volunteers can contact some nursing homes, rehabilitation centers or senior residences to find out how to coordinate one-time or regular visits.

Make plans to visit a facility to chat with residents, hear their stories, play a card game, do a puzzle together or play an instrument for them. The visits will provide companionship that can help reduce feelings of isolation and depression in the elderly.

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