Volunteering ... Give the gift that keeps on giving this Christmas.

Volunteering ... Give the gift that keeps on giving this Christmas.

While many families are joyfully preparing for Christmas, the less fortunate are preparing to spend the holiday season with limited food, no gifts or worse yet in total isolation. Donations are sought by charities throughout the year, but they have more meaning at this time of year.

This week is also Give Now Week (November 28 – December 4), an initiative of the Our Community Foundation. Their aim is to empower people with different ideas on how to give to the community. So this year, in addition to contributing items to those in need, why not contribute your time, as a family, helping others to bring alive the spirit of Christmas?

Family volunteering as described by Volunteering Australia, is an activity where “parents, children and other family members spend time together while contributing to the community and causes they care about.” In Australia, the concept of family volunteering has only recently taken hold, with more opportunities currently being advertised for individual volunteers than for families. However with support from government agencies, like the Queensland Government’s guidelines for volunteer organisations and volunteer managers to involve families, Australians can begin to reap the benefits of this deeply rewarding activity.

These activities can be something as simple as spending time at a homeless shelter or helping to put up Christmas decorations, or something a bit more involved like organising a fundraising event.

Other great ideas include:
- Helping to sort donated books/clothes
- Caring for animals
- Visiting a nursing home
- Reading to children
- Volunteering to gift wrap people’s Christmas gifts

While the act of giving has special significance during Christmas time, it is a worthwhile activity to pursue at any time of the year. When children watch their parents demonstrate good values such as empathy, respect, kindness and tolerance, they receive a lesson first-hand at these treasured traits. In addition, when done together, it gives the family a sense of accomplishment and pride in themselves.

Regular family volunteering can also be an effective way to schedule in some quality family time. If the family members’ interests are factored into the activity, it can be a fun outing that the kids can look forward to. This is evident in father and daughter team Bob and Hayley Pearce who volunteer for the Mon Repos Conservation Park, near Bundaberg, once a week assisting rangers and answering visitor questions. In an interview for the Queensland Government’s Department of Communities, Bob Pearce described family volunteering as a way to enjoy “quality time together, as a family other than in a home situation”.  He explained that he also got to watch “family members grow in confidence by handling different situations in different and sometimes challenging environments.”

Not only do children take this experience into adulthood to help in their professional and personal lives, they also take with them the desire to volunteer in more activities. The most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey in 2007 found that 52% of those that volunteered said that they had at least one parent who had volunteered compared to 23% of respondents who said that their parents had not volunteered in the past.

Furthermore, people who volunteer are given recognition for the time that they donate and honoured for their commitment to create a better society. Several events around the world are dedicated to thanking volunteers for their contribution. International Volunteers Day was celebrated on the 5th December 2011 and some states like New South Wales used the day to present Volunteer of the Year awards.