Over Thanksgiving break, Dustin joined me and The Wild Things at the zoo to help the zookeepers make animal Christmas Ornaments to sell as a fundraiser and to help sort and label animal ornaments for the animal enrichment wish tree.
I so appreciate the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and JZG AAZK for allowing Dustin to volunteer with me many times over the past few years. Because of these opportunities (and extremely cool tours and activities like penguin feedings), he has developed such a love for animals and a heart for conservation and helping others.
I remember volunteering with my mom to make Thanksgiving baskets, build with Habitat for Humanity and many other projects with a variety of organizations. Those experiences have really stuck with me over the years. As I got older, those volunteer experiences played a huge role in my path in life.
These days it seems very few organizations have volunteer opportunities for kids, especially younger ones, to participate in or even attend with their parents. Except maybe things like beach cleanups and even many of those have age limits. I get it – liability reasons – but it still stinks.
It makes me all the more grateful for everyone that is part of the zoo family that has made us feel welcomed and part of something that matters. It is also exceptionally cool that at least one person in almost every department knows the kid by name.
Help Support our Zoo
Everyone has been hit hard by COVID and the entire nonprofit sector is struggling because of it. Because of a two month closure, cancelled fundraisers and reduced attendance since reopening, the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is millions of dollars behind their projected budget for the year. Last count I heard was over $6 million.
If you would like to support the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, our second home, you can give directly on their website. There are lots of ways to give, including symbolically adopting an animal (these often include stuffed animals and make great gifts!) or purchasing a brick that can be engraved with names or a message of your choosing.
If you would like to help Dustin purchase a brick at the zoo or items from the Animal Enrichment Wish Tree, you can make a donation here.
Volunteer with Your Family
It is not always easy to find family friendly volunteer opportunities, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Points of Light is a great resources for finding volunteer opportunities in your community. You can also use resources like Volunteer Match or simply search for nonprofits in your area and contact them directly.
If you have a USO in your area, they often have events to pack care packages for deployed service members or you can reach out and see if they would like some letters to include in those packages. Letters to servicemembers is a very easy project you can lead yourself along with friends, neighbors or your school. If you have a contact the USO or another military-serving organization, they can often help you get an address where you can send an entire box of letters than can be distributed throughout a unit or a ship.
Churches are another great place to find family-friendly volunteer opportunities, especially around the holidays. Many churches organize Thanksgiving and Christmas meal distributions. Once all the supplies are purchased or donated, they often need help sorting those supplies into boxes for individuals and families to pick up.
Why Should Youth Volunteer?
There are countless studies and scholarly articles on the benefits of volunteering, especially on children, teens and young adults. To summarize and over simplify all those articles: It’s good for them.
There is a very long list of positive impacts of volunteering that extend far beyond improving your community. From increased self-esteem and learning new skills to developing empathy and lower rates of depression, study after study shows volunteering is good for you.
Learn more about youth volunteering at Youth Service America and GenerationON.
Don’t have kids? Almost all the exact same benefits apply to adults. Plus a few few additional ones, like helping to put things in perspective. If you are feeling bummed out by 2020 (and who isn’t at this point?), get out there and volunteer. Odds are you’ll feel at least a little better and maybe make a few new friends.
However you choose to do it, get out there and connect with your community. There are individuals and organization in every community that need your help now more than ever.