Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On Kids Volunteering in the Community

Please welcome Kai Strand, author of Save the Lemmings! posting about the timely topic of kids and volunteering. Kai includes segments of an interview she did with Betsy Warriner of Volunteer Connect in Bend, Oregon.

In my newest novel, SAVE THE LEMMINGS, Natalie falls in love with lemmings and learns of their tendency to commit mass suicide. It breaks her heart to think of all those needless deaths, so she joins the Save the Lemmings! Foundation. Her support helps build tiny picket fences along the cliffs of the arctic so that lemmings can no longer jump to their deaths.

When I worked for Habitat for Humanity, we had a lot of children and parents contact us to ask about volunteer opportunities for kids. It can be difficult to find good non-profits for kids to get involved with…unless you know where to look. Don’t worry, I’m here to help. I recently spoke with Betsy Warriner, the Executive Director of Volunteer Connect in Bend, Oregon.

Kai Strand: Betsy, thanks for joining us. We are hoping to pick your brain about kids volunteering; mainly kids nine years old and up. Are children able to volunteer? What are some of the different opportunities they might get involved in?

Betsy Warriner: Yes, children are able to volunteer. Pre-teens are often welcome to help out with projects with animals and environmental restoration. Some opportunities have a minimum age qualification, but sometimes the organization can go below that age if the child is with an adult. Children also often do projects from home and school, such as organizing canned food drives or creating a community garden. A good resource for getting involved is Youth Service America at

Kai: If a child or teen has a particular interest; animals, books, art, how will volunteering help them learn more about it?

Betsy: Children and adults can learn a lot about particular interests by volunteering with organizations focused on those interests. By volunteering, you get to experience the topic personally and work with other people who know a lot about it.

To find good volunteer opportunities related to your interest, ask your local volunteer center or do an online search for the interest topic, including the word "volunteer."

Here is a good strategy for learning as you volunteer:
-- Figure out what you want to learn and how you want to help out. Doing this together with family or friends can bring up some great ideas. Write these goals down.
-- Contact local or international organizations serving your area of interest, and share your goals with them. They will probably be impressed that you have thought your goals out and welcome you to come and talk more about your ideas.
-- As you volunteer, keep a journal of what you do, what you see and hear, how you feel about what you are doing, and what you are learning. Share some of what you journal with family and friends. Maybe you could write a letter to the local newspaper about what you observed and learned and about what other people can do to help out. You could take pictures, and do a presentation for your class or a local service club. Sharing what you are learning makes it come even more alive.
-- As you reflect on your volunteer experience, figure out what you want to do next -- maybe a new volunteer endeavor, or maybe a way to make your current volunteering even better.

The best resource for ideas on how to learn while volunteering is Catherine Berger Kaye's The Complete Guide to Service Learning.

Kai: What are some of the most favorite youth volunteer opportunities here in Central Oregon?

Betsy: Events for Healthy Beginnings, the Latino Community Association, and other organizations
The garden at The Environmental Center
Repacking food at NeighborImpact
Preparing bag lunches at Bend's Community Center
Assisting at a branch of the Deschutes Public Library
Cleaning and yard work at Ronald McDonald House

Search on the Volunteer Connect website for other ideas: Volunteer Connect also has ideas for projects that families can do at home.

Kai: How can children and their parents learn about youth volunteer opportunities in their area?

Betsy: Check with your local volunteer center or United Way for ideas. Search online, using key words such as "volunteer" plus your community name.

Kai: Last but not least, Betsy….WHY should kids volunteer?

Betsy: Volunteering brings people together, builds confidence and purpose, and can be a lot of fun, while making a real difference in the community.

Kai: Thank you, Betsy, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us about volunteering. Parents, if you want to encourage your children to volunteer, be sure to find out what their real interests are and then search for an opportunity together.

Have you volunteered before? What did you do? Who did you do it for? What was the best part of the experience? We’d love to know.

Thank you, Kai and Betsy, for this informative and helpful interview!

About the book: SAVE THE LEMMINGS! 8th grade inventor, Natalie Isabelle Cailean Edwards is the N.I.C.E. girl who finishes last with the kids in school. Sappy inspirational phrases and monochromatic outfits have all but her best friends wrinkling their nose at her. When Natalie’s invention, the Texty-Talky, goes nationwide, she becomes an overnight sensation. Suddenly her days consist of photo shoots and interviews with little time left for her friends. A local reporter shatters her good-girl image by reporting a graffiti incident and the media launches into a smear campaign. It is so bad, even her friends start to believe the stories. Will Natalie be able to overcome the lies being printed about her? Pick up your copy of Save the Lemmings here.

About the author: Kai Strand writes fiction for middle grade and young adult readers. She is a (very lucky) wife and the mother of four amazing kids. The most common sound in her household is laughter. The second most common is, "Do your dishes!" She and her family hike, geocache, and canoe in beautiful Central Oregon, where they call home.

To find out more about Kai’s books, download companion documents, find links to her published short stories and discover all the places to find Kai both virtually and in person, visit her website: She loves to hear from readers, so feel free to send her an email or visit her facebook page, Kai Strand, Author.


  1. I volunteered in an adult illiteracy program a few years back and I'm always volunteering at our church.
    Dig the title of your book, Kai!

  2. Hi Kai and Betsy and KarenG! Yay for encouraging kids to volunteer! Maybe joining the Scouts/Brownies too!!! Yay! Take care

  3. I am always thinking of ways to get my kids out there, experiencing different ways to give back to the community. What a great post!

  4. That's awesome. I love the idea of having my kids volunteer! Thanks Kai & Karen!

  5. Karen, thanks for letting Betsy and me visit today with this great message.

    Schools are great places for the kids to learn about community involvement too. My kids volunteered hundreds of hours around the community through the band and JROTC programs. And they enjoyed it!

    Thanks for reading everybody!

  6. What a wonderful idea. I'd save the lemmings.

  7. Saving the Lemmings sounds like an inspirational book. :) I think volunteering at any age is valuable. :D

  8. Hello Kai & Karen,

    Saving the Lemmings sound an inspirational and fantastic book. Thanks for information on it!


  9. Kai, hey it's so nice to meet you.

    Volunteering is such a great way for children to learn about the world and about how to help others and relate to others. It teaches empathy, compassion, and action which is the most important thing of all. There's no use knowing something is wrong but doing nothing about it.

    I've volunteered with various organisations over the years and I've always found it so fulfilling. It gives me more than that I could ever give.


    1. My main character says something like that in the book, "You can't complain about something you're not willing to fix."

      Nothing compares to that natural high you get after volunteering!

      Thanks for all you do, Jai.

  10. Volunteering is a great lesson for children to show them about helping others. Thank you for promoting this.

    Mary Montague Sikes

  11. Kai - I love the title of your book. Volunteering is such a fab thing to do - anything that is helpful and promotes kindness to others gets my vote!

  12. Wow,Karen, great post. It could not have come at a better time. My son's school has community service requirements. Since he is only eleven, it is difficult to find services that are a good fit for him. You definitely helped me to narrow the search. I'm going to check out the YSA website soon as I leave here. Thanks for passing on such useful info. I believe children and adults can benefit from helping those in need. All the best.

    1. Andrea, I'm glad this was so well timed for you! Best of luck to you and your son.

  13. Sorry I am late to the party, Kai! I want to thank you for this thorough and helpful post on volunteering. As parents of 10, my husband and I were committed to teaching our children service to others, whether within the home (plenty of opportunity for that with so many siblings!) or to neighbors or the community.

    You presented some fabulous ideas here. For a few years, I homeschooled several of my children who were having difficulties at public school and I can see where I would have gotten your book, have them read and discuss it and then we'd have followed up with a volunteering project. (That's the kind of fun stuff we like to do in our homeschool experience!)

    Thanks again, Kai, and wishing you much success with SAVE THE LEMMINGS!

  14. I truly believe that a community is only as strong as its members and it is our adult responsibility to model compassion and hard work. There are so many opportunities, it just isn't always easy to find. Especially for our younger community members.

    Thanks everyone for your kind words and enthusiasm.

  15. It really teaches kids a lot when the volunteer. Nice interview.