Volunteering with your family at DARTS has so many benefits – for your kids, your family and your community. Most important, the older adult you assist will feel less isolated and enjoy the pleasure of intergenerational connections. As one of our family volunteers said when she was describing how much an older friend adored her daughter, “Children just brighten up everything.”
But the older adult will not be the only one who benefits. Young children and teens who spend time “doing for others” develop empathy, gratitude and respect for others -- and these efforts often evolve into a lifelong habit of giving. When kids make significant contributions early in life, they grow up empowered to believe they can make a difference, becoming tomorrow’s philanthropists, volunteers and thoughtful, kind adults.
As a nonprofit agency that provides household services, caregiver support and transportation for older adults, DARTS is uniquely positioned to introduce youth to the value of giving and serving. We have a variety of opportunities suited to your family’s interests, availability and ages. And these are hands-on, direct service activities, which research shows are the most powerful kind. At DARTS, your family can form meaningful relationships that bring joy to both the giver and the receiver.
Many thanks to you and your family for taking the time to make a positive difference in the lives of older adults in our local community. We are deeply grateful.
Barb Tiggemann, DARTS Volunteer Coordinator
The information and resources in this section are brought to you in partnership between Doing Good Together & DARTS.
To get the most out of your experience, you’ll want to prepare your youngster or teen for the sights and sounds to expect.
Here are four simple ways to get ready.
1. Have conversations beforehand. Not only will this make your child more confident and relaxed, but it will also deepen the volunteer experience. Here are some topics to consider:
Discuss the value of spending time with older adults.
- Talk about what we can learn from older adults – their stories, their wisdom, their experiences.
- If you know anything about the older adult you’ll be assisting, talk about their limitations. For little ones, ask how it might feel to not be able to see or hear well or move around easily. For teens, ask if they have any concerns about interacting with the older adult you’ll be serving.
Volunteering with DARTS provides an ideal opportunity to talk with your youngsters and teens about our aging population and about aging itself.
We all face challenges as we age - from fading eyesight to low energy. Seeing this in your new friends can be a chance to teach kids about empathy and compassion. Explain that sometimes older people have illnesses or other disabilities that make them seem different than a younger, healthier person. Ask: “How would you feel if this were true of you?” “How might you react if you had frequent pain or trouble walking or hearing?”
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Here are some family-tested tips for making your volunteer experience productive and fun.
If you’re helping with outside chores:
- Be sure everyone has a job to do (even the little ones), but be aware of what your child can handle. Younger kids can pick up yard debris, gather sticks or pull leaves out of planting beds. Or they can partner with adults and work in tandem – the child can hold the bag while the adult rakes. Use this opportunity to teach teens about how to safely use the equipment (snow blowers, lawn mowers, etc.).
- Consider purchasing kid-size tools for younger kids. Try your local garden supply or toy store. Invite your child to come along to pick them out. Having their own tools will make them more excited about yard work.
If your DARTS volunteer project is ongoing, your experience will be deepened if you periodically take time to reflect. Learning, understanding and growth occur when action is combined with reflection. In this way, “giving back” becomes a firmly embedded value and a source of lifelong learning.
Continue the conversation
Chat at dinner, in the car and before bed. Remind everyone why you chose to volunteer and what it means. Continue to reflect as long as you’re volunteering and even afterwards. Here are questions to ask: Read more »
Children (of all ages!) love being read to and story time is a wonderful occasion for meaningful conversations. Older adults are often underrepresented or stereotyped in children’s literature, but these books portray older adults and aging in a positive way. We included a few reflection questions to encourage your conversations.
Effie’s Image by N.L. Sharp (Prairieland, 2005). Ages 4-8. Effie is an 82-year-old woman who believes she has nothing else to offer the world. When Amanda, a young neighbor girl, visits will Effie change her outlook?
- Why do you think Effie felt sad when she looked in the mirror?
- What do you think made Amanda want to help Effie?