The idea to start Volunteer Odyssey, a nonprofit hub for volunteerism, started when Sarah was 6 years old. Her family made it a habit to volunteer at a local soup kitchen and when Sarah asked why they volunteer, her parents responded that not everyone is able to eat a full meal every day but that since her family was able to help, it was the right thing to do. Fast forward 20 years and that idea stayed in front of mind; Sarah started Volunteer Odyssey in 2013 to create pathways for others to volunteer in her home of Memphis, TN.
We work with many families to find their ideal volunteering sites. Father-daughter duo, Tim and Susanna frequent the Carpenter Art Garden where they spend time with kids after school and help with arts & crafts projects, learning about music and other activities. Tim says “volunteer opportunities like this help us to instill our values of helping others and of being of service in the community along with introducing our kids to the realities of life that many people in our community face each day” while Susanna chimed in “Daddy, I wasn’t volunteering...I was just having a lot fun!”
Aside from the altruistic effect of volunteering, over 90% of families surveyed reported that they felt a sense of accomplishment, fun and that they had positively affected their communities with their work. Over 80% of respondents also reported that volunteering made them feel closer as a family and help them talk about family values (Family Matters, 2003)
Volunteering offers a free and meaningful way to spend time as a family. Instead of paying admission fee to a museum, why not volunteer for an hour or two? Usually, after I volunteer with my family, the volunteer coordinator will give us a tour or let us wander around the museum for free as thanks for our hard work! Plus, volunteering opens up avenues to explore more of our wonderful city and meet other families doing good work.
How to Volunteer
Our website, www.volunteercompass.com, makes it easy to find a volunteer opportunity! You can search by opportunity type (animals, kids), search by date or filter opportunities by age range. All volunteer opportunities are listed as ‘All Ages’ or delineated by age group (15 and older, etc) and there is more information in the ‘About’ section about which age groups are best suited. Once you click on a volunteer opportunity, the page will display more information about the opportunity and there will be a direct link to register. All you need to register is an email address. Have a question about the opportunity? There is a direct link to message the volunteer coordinator.
In Memphis, great places to start volunteering are the Memphis Botanic Garden and Shelby Farms Park. Both offer diverse options for volunteers with flexible times on both weekdays and weekends.
Tips on Volunteering as a Family
We have found that when volunteers enjoy what they’re doing, they’re more likely to stay involved and continue volunteering. What do your kids enjoy doing? Playing with animals? Making art? Being outside? Involve them in the process of picking where to volunteer by giving some options and letting them choose.
If you’ll be helping vulnerable populations, it helps to have a conversation with your child about who you’ll be helping ahead of time. Take the time to explain why you’ll be helping and your child will be able to warm up quickly to those that you’ll be working with. If you have questions about language to use, feel free to reach out to the volunteer coordinator -- they’re experienced with helping volunteers feel comfortable. Framing the volunteer opportunity as an activity to meet new people is helpful in creating a positive narrative for your child before you begin.
Top 10 Family Volunteer Locations:
Volunteerism is a wonderful way to give back to your community and to make lasting memories (and maybe traditions!) with your family. Volunteering doesn’t need to be limited to the holidays and can be a great way to start conversations, learn more and explore with your family. Giving thanks can take many forms and giving back to the community is a wonderful way to teach that lesson to your child...and get a break from screens at the same time!
Where will you make an impactful memory with your family? Visit www.volunteercompass.com to get started!
About the Author
Volunteer Odyssey is a nonprofit based in Memphis, TN that connects volunteers with their ideal volunteer experience and nonprofits with eager volunteers. Volunteer Odyssey runs a platform, VolunteerCompass, that makes it easy for individuals and families to learn more volunteer opportunities and sign-up seamlessly. Since 2016, Volunteer Odyssey has helped over 10,000 Memphians give back to their community!