Grandparents can share many traditions and values with their grandchildren, including the love of giving back through volunteering. Not only does it help strengthen the bond between generations, but it also can help children understand the importance of caring and helpfulness.
These values can become lost among the challenges facing kids today, but studies have shown that a volunteering grandparent can provide a strong role model.
“It’s a good way to pass on the values that matter most,” says Jenny Friedman, executive director of the national nonprofit Doing Good Together, which promotes family volunteering and service. “It’s a meaningful way to share time together. Plus, it’s fun.”
Margaret Rhynard, a volunteer for Cleveland Metroparks, the Cleveland Natural History Museum and the Lake Erie Nature and Science Center, began bringing her then-10-year-old granddaughter Helena with her when she worked the front desk at the Rocky River Nature Center.
Now 15, Helena worked during the summer as a camp counselor at Shaker Lakes.
“I’ve seen her develop an appreciation of nature and animals and an interest in learning,” Rhynard says.
Because of liability issues, many organizations such as the Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Metroparks Zoo require that junior volunteers be teens. But, it’s never too early to start.
Doing Good Together (doinggoodtogether.org) offers several ideas for even the smallest helping hands. These include making greeting cards for sick children (sendkidstheworld.com), creating pet toys for local animal shelters (call ahead to make sure they can use the toys), and decorating lunch bags with markers and stickers, filling them with treats and delivering them to the local police and fire station (Again, call ahead).
School-aged children can become “Book Buddies” (family-to-family.org) with a child living in poverty. You will receive the name of a child, their age and reading level, so you and your grandchild can choose a book each month for a year to send to the child, along with a letter.
The Jewish Federation of Cleveland (jewishcleveland.org) offers a list of hands-on and virtual opportunities for individuals, families, teens and groups, ranging from serving meals to the hungry, to protecting the environment (at the Holden Arboretum and Shaker Lakes), to caring for the sick (Cleveland Clinic and Ronald McDonald House) to volunteering at the Cleveland Animal Protective League.
Also, check with your local food bank. Families are often welcome to help prepare boxes and bags of items for distribution to clients.
But don’t force the issue if your grandchild does not share your specific interests. Focus on building a good foundation for volunteerism.
“If you’re not sure, try it for a while. If it doesn’t work out, try something else,” Rhynard suggests.
Dennis Kucler, a grandfather and a volunteer for Westshore CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) says, “We are all part of a community. It is important that as part of that community we share our resources and talents. The best way to pass this message to the next generation is by our personal efforts and example — actions, not words.”
Sue Botos is a freelance writer from Rocky River.