The following is an excerpt from my interview with Alexandra Fung on my podcast, You’ve Got This.
Alexandra is the co-founder and CEO of Upparent.com, a website that makes it easy for parents to discover and share recommendations with one another about local things to do, places to go and products to try as a family, including volunteer opportunities. Family and community have long been central to Alex’s life. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame and NYU School of Law, she served as an advocate for children and families in the nonprofit sector for many years before helping to launch Upparent. Originally from Southern California, Alex currently lives with her husband and three kids in the suburbs of Chicago.
Summer can be a great time to start or continue volunteer work with your family, isn’t it?
Alexandra: I think summertime is a perfect chance to explore this. It can be a little bit challenging because not all places accept young volunteers.
Before we dive into where to volunteer, let us talk a little bit about why families should volunteer together. My family doing some volunteer work together because of the way that it created this team feeling for us and it also helps us to think beyond the four walls of our family. I am a huge proponent of serving our family with children both inside and outside our home.
Alexandra: We begin as our family unit, but as we get older, we begin to see that we are part of a larger community beyond our family, beyond our school, beyond the places that we visit day today. Volunteering is a wonderful way to begin to introduce kids to this idea that there is something bigger than themselves, there is something more than their family, their immediate community, their friends, their school, and that they are part of something larger. I have found that it also led to some really great conversations about big topics with my kids. If we are volunteering to pack food for children who may not have access to food, that sparks something in my children: “Oh, I did not realize that not all children can count on three meals a day and snacks like we do.” It’s a wonderful way to begin to think with them and talk with them together as a family about these realities of the world that we are living. It’s also a great way for them to participate in their local communities and to begin to realize that people in their communities have very different experiences and opportunities than they do.
Also, it gives them an opportunity to see that they can make a difference that their efforts can make.
Alexandra: It really is a wonderful way to begin to not only expand your view to get a sense that you are a part of something bigger, but also to begin to develop those connections and see those connections. We want our children to understand that we live in an interconnected world, and how even small steps, like taking two hours on a Saturday morning to pack meals, can make a significant and positive impact on their larger community.
Alexandra: One of my favorite places that we found that allows us to volunteer as a family (they take volunteers as young as five), is Feed My Starving Children. They have several prominent sites around the country, but also have global pack events. What I like about this charity is that you begin by learning a little bit about the places that they serve and the communities that are going to receive the packages, then you put the packages together.
I think it’s so important to have some thought about what the organization supports so that you and your kids can have a deeper connection to that work. It really helps us develop a servant heart to know why we’re putting together food packages, for example.
Alexandra: Another great organization that we found here in Chicago, but that has other locations around the country is Cradles to Crayons. This is another organization where kids can put packages together for other children, but these packages go more locally and are things like school backpacks or clothing for the school year.
Your website, upparent.com, lists more resources for volunteer opportunities.
Alexandra: Our goal with Upparent was to create a place that gathers recommendations directly from parents and the community about any number of family-friendly activities, including volunteer opportunities for children. We have created lists of family-friendly volunteer opportunities in 17 metropolitan areas around the United States, and we have several more in the works.
To hear more great advice and stories from Alexandra, listen to “A Volunteer Family” on the “You’ve Got This” podcast.