A New Year begins tomorrow and many families will likely resolve to spend extra time together. However, just after the holidays you may also be thinking about keeping spending down. An inexpensive activity that is shown to improve mental health, and that can give your family some positive and meaningful experiences, is volunteering.

I am including an article about the mental health benefits of volunteering, but I also want to provide you with some thoughts about how volunteering can strengthen your family as well as give you a few tips about finding the perfect cause for your family’s precious time.

The article provided will remind you that volunteering can prevent or be an antidote to such mental health problems as anxiety and depression. Volunteer service also helps us to combat life stresses in general. All of us who have volunteered for a cause can recall the positive feelings that we get from helping others. Those positive feelings are a remedy for negative feelings all by themselves, but volunteering with others often improves our social relations and prevents social isolation. Volunteering with neighbours or friends can build our support system, and so volunteering with family members can improve those relationships as well. If your family chooses a cause that you are all committed to, you will learn together to meet goals and complete activities. Learning to solve volunteer problems together, on concerns that affect you but that do not have the same impact as a direct family problem like job loss or school difficulty, will give your family skills that you can use when there is an actual family problem to overcome.

Another benefit of volunteering as a family is that you can gain some insights into which kind of long term commitments might be reasonable for your family. For example, if some people in your family want a pet while others are not certain whether this would be a good idea, your family might consider volunteering at the local animal shelter. You will learn from several hours per week of volunteering together what kind of commitment different pets require, which pets family members prefer and whether anyone has any allergies or fears about pets or a specific pet.

Other activities can be a very direct benefit to your family, such as volunteering together at school activities or neighbourhood fundraisers. If your local playground needs a new or improved play structure, why not organize an activity to help raise the money to buy it. Also, learning to advocate with city officials for a new play structure gives children and youth valuable advocacy skills.

The other positive aspect of volunteering is that it doesn’t always require a great commitment. If your family cannot make a weekly commitment, perhaps you can organize to be involved in activities that occur only periodically, like a winter craft sale or a festival. Participating in these more seasonal activities means that you can engage those members of your family, like a busy parent or teenage student, every so often at their convenience. Remember that volunteering can also be an important way to connect children and youth with their grandparents. My daughter learned to knit from her grandmother while making mittens for the Snowsuit Fund.

The most important part of volunteering, however, is to make sure that whatever activity you pick, everyone has fun doing it. If you’re working so hard that the volunteer activity is stressful, it’s time to rethink the activity.

Whatever you might think of, let me remind you of this quote from Charles Dickens:
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”

Happy New Year!!

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