The United Way Talks About Kids Volunteering

Susie McGee
Mei Cobb, Volunteer Engagement Consultant with United Way
Mei Cobb from United Way

Are you looking for ways to get your kids involved in volunteering? LoveToKnow Kids turned to Mei Cobb for information on volunteer opportunities for children. Mei is a Volunteer Engagement Consultant for United Way of America, a global network with a presence in 46 countries and 1300 local organizations in the United States. Prior to her work at United Way, Mei served as Senior Vice President for the Points of Light Foundation and is also currently a partner with VIP GlobalNet and an international consultant and trainer on volunteering.

Mei is a strong advocate for the leadership role volunteer centers play to help impact serious social problems in local communities and throughout the world. She has consulted, designed and conducted training in 21 countries on 6 continents. She most recently worked with the Emirates Foundation in the United Arab Emirates.

Please tell us a little about yourself and about United Way

The United Way movement creates long lasting community change by addressing the underlying causes of problems that prevent progress in these areas. LIVE UNITED is a call to action for everyone to become part of the change. I direct United Way's Volunteer Engagement program.

Why should kids get involved in volunteering?

Volunteering enhances their development in several ways:

  • Psychological - increases self-esteem, responsibility and an interest in learning.
  • Social - develops new social skills.
  • Intellectual - provides new information and opportunities to apply newly learned material.
  • Promotes a healthy lifestyle and healthy choices - children who volunteer are less likely to become involved in at-risk behaviors.
  • Teaches social responsibility
  • Develops empathy
  • Teaches that one person can make a difference
  • Creates a lifelong ethic of service
  • Volunteering improves the community

What are some volunteering opportunities with the United Way?

Volunteer opportunities vary by community. To find more information about volunteer opportunities in your community, go to You may find the following types of opportunities that would be appropriate for children:

  • Individual volunteer opportunities for children
  • Groups of children volunteering together
  • Family volunteer teams
  • Intergenerational teams (non-related)

To find the right volunteer opportunity for your child:

  • Consider a cause or a particular interest area.
  • Choose carefully and be selective.
  • Consider the skills your child has to offer.
  • Learn something new.
  • Be realistic about your children's time - don't over schedule them.
  • Consider volunteering as a family

Volunteer ideas by age group, include the following:

  • Ages 1-4:
    • Play with other children at a children's center
    • Visit a nursing home with other family members
    • Join with an older family member to read books at the library or community center
    • Go along for the delivery of meals prepared for those who are homebound or hungry
  • Elementary School Age
    • Make placemats for a soup kitchen or homeless shelter
    • Create read-a-thon projects, where students read to younger students
    • Initiate a litter patrol at school during lunch or recess
    • Collect used books for a shelter for homeless children
    • Make cards or letters for military personnel
    • Visit a senior center
    • Hold a food drive for the homeless
  • Middle School Age
    • Help food banks organize their pantry
    • Participate in a community clean up
    • Volunteer at a soup kitchen, nursing home and day care centers
    • Collect books to be distributed to families who might not otherwise own books
    • Tutor elementary students after school
  • High School Age
    • Volunteer in a hospital
    • Be a homework helper in an after-school program
    • Organize a neighborhood food drive
    • Help to build a home or shelter in your community
    • Hold a forum about racism to create community solutions
    • Work as aides in group homes for adults with disabilities
    • Write for or read letters to visually impaired individuals
    • Make a panel for the AIDS Quilt and give awareness presentations
    • Research general information on political platforms and distribute it to peers.
    • Set up a peer counseling program
    • Clean a polluted lake or river

    What advice would you offer on volunteering and child safety?

    To help allay your safety concerns, make sure you pay attention to the following:
  • The volunteer opportunity is age-appropriate.
  • The opportunity is family-friendly.
  • Projects are adequately supervised.
  • Projects protect the volunteer's privacy and personal information.
  • Agencies/organizations screen and do background checks on staff and volunteers.
  • You are comfortable with the volunteer project site and the opportunity. You're the best judge of what will be appropriate for your child.

Where can readers find out more about volunteering in their community?

To find more information volunteer opportunities in your community, go to

Do you have any other advice or information you'd like to share with our readers?

Consider volunteering as a family. Benefits include:

  • Family volunteering is a concrete way to be sensitive to social issues, to advance the common good and to understand that the world is a better place when we care for one another.
  • Strengthens family communication and bonds
  • Allows family members to be role models
  • Teaches positive values to children, creating a new generation of dedicated volunteers
  • Increases commitment to volunteering and community
  • Provides quality family time

Questions to ask before you start:

  • Why are you interested in volunteering?
  • What are the ages of your children?
  • Who would you like to help? or What issues are you interested in?
  • What does your family enjoy doing together?
  • How frequently would you be able to volunteer?
  • Would you like to volunteer with other families?
  • What talents and skills does your family have to offer?
  • What do you want your family to learn from the experience?

To help ensure a project is family-friendly, be sure that:

  • You involve your children throughout the process.
  • The activity can be shared among family members.
  • There are activities for various ages, skills and interests.
  • There's a flexible schedule to accommodate family availability.
  • There's on-site training for children and young people.
  • Easy-to-read instructions are provided.
  • A wide range of experience is welcome.
  • The activity provides a direct, visible impact.
  • There's time for families to reflect on the activity and their feelings.
  • It's a time-limited project.
  • It's fun!

Ideas for families who want to champion a cause:

  • Attend a city council meeting with other families to express an opinion on a community issue.
  • Write a letter to your legislator about an issue that is important to your family.
  • Tell about your family volunteer experience at community events or in newsletters.
  • Help with voter registration campaigns.
  • Call other friends' families to become family volunteers.
  • Encourage family volunteering in your own classroom or civic activities.
  • Become a "spokes-family" for a cause you care about.
  • Make awareness posters.

For more information on this topic, check out LiveUnited.

The United Way Talks About Kids Volunteering