Engaging kids—and families—in volunteerism
Children may be the future, but Georgetown’s next generation of community-minded leaders—some of whom are only very recently out of diapers—is already at work making a difference.
Founded in 2009 under the name Little Helping Hands, the central Texas nonprofit Generation SERVE strives to engage children as young as 3 years old in volunteerism, teach them about community needs, and empower them to positively impact their communities. By teaching kids about volunteerism and community impact, the organization hopes to inspire a new generation of life-long volunteers, leaders, and civic-minded individuals.
Throughout the year, Generation SERVE partners with nonprofits throughout Georgetown, Cedar Park, Round Rock, and Austin, to create service and learning opportunities for children ages three through 17 and their families. For young children, volunteer opportunities may include visiting a nursing home to sing or do crafts with the elderly for an hour, while older children may sign up for four-hour volunteer slots manning booths at 5K races or helping out at the Red Poppy Festival.
“We started volunteering with Generation SERVE about six years ago, when Lucas was three years old,” says Melissa Main-Muñoz, smiling adoringly at her ten-year-old son. “We tried one volunteer activity as a family and really loved it, so we volunteered for others.” The Main-Muñozes now serve as one of Generation SERVE’s Ambassador Families in Williamson County, helping to promote awareness of the organization in the community.
To date, Lucas has contributed more than 70 hours to the community (and that doesn’t even count his parents’ hours). “I liked how, not too long ago, we made packages for the homeless people under the bridge,” says Lucas, referring to the care packages of water, applesauce, crackers and other consumables he helped assemble and distribute to homeless people at the San Gabriel Park bridge.
“There are homeless people up here, near San Gabriel Park, and for him to be aware of that—to put a face to homelessness and be able to make an impact—at age ten, fourth grade, is really important,” says Melissa. “I think he’s a better child because of it.”
Over the years, Lucas and his parents have served a variety of community needs, including helping to socialize dogs at the Williamson County Animal Shelter by reading to them, creating care kits for new moms at the Annunciation Maternity Home, and cleaning up the park. Sometimes he’ll volunteer with his mom, Melissa, sometimes with his dad, JD, and sometimes volunteering will be a family affair.
To date, Lucas has participated in more than 60 service activities. In 2017, he volunteered 28 hours, receiving the bronze President’s Volunteer Service Award for his service.
While volunteer hours are donated, the labor contributes to nonprofits’ and communities’ economic impact. According to the Independent Sector—a national membership organization that collects data on nonprofits, foundations, and corporations and regularly estimates the value of a volunteer hour—a single volunteer hour in the United States was valued at $24.14 in 2017. With 12,442 hours counted among 5,400 central Texas youth and their parents in 2016, Generation SERVE’s youth economic impact totaled more than $300,000.
“Parents often find that their kids are a lot more capable of doing volunteer work than they might expect them to be. Because we make these activities family friendly for little hands, they can really accomplish a lot when they’re little,” says Allison Johnson, marketing director for Generation SERVE. Allison got involved with the organization as a volunteer when her first-born son was almost three. Now she has two sons, ages ten and seven, both actively involved in Generation SERVE leadership and volunteer efforts.
Since her boys fall into different age groups and prefer different types of community service activities, Allison often attends separate service activities with each of them. “Afterwards, we’ll have separate conversations about what it means to them,” says Allison. “It’s a meaningful way for us to have that one-on-one time together.”
In addition to its flagship Family Volunteering Program, Generation SERVE has started offering a Service Learning Program for kids in 3rd through 5th grade and a Youth Leadership Program, which serves kids in middle school and high school. The popularity and growth of these new programs contributed to the organization’s decision to change its name from Little Helping Hands to Generation SERVE in fall 2017.
When Lucas is older, he hopes to enroll in the Service Learning Program, where he’ll receive more in-depth education and volunteer experience on a particular topic such as helping animals, helping environment, or helping people.
“It’s been really fun to see kids grow up through the program,” says Allison. “Kids who started at maybe age seven or eight are now seniors in high school and are still involved. They have transitioned from volunteering being new to them, to it becoming a part of who they are, to then becoming leaders in the organization and in the community. After that, they become young adults who feel comfortable volunteering, because it’s just a part of what they’ve always done.”
“I feel good about making the world a happier place.”
For more information on Generation SERVE or to become a volunteer, visit generationserve.org.