- Jodi Blake
4 Benefits of Parent Volunteering
“Hi, is this Jodi?”
“Yes, this is she.”
“Great! I’m Ann from the park district. I see your son Ryan is signed up to play soccer this fall, so I’m calling to ask if you would be able to volunteer as a soccer coach for his team. Without parents volunteering to coach, we aren’t able to field as many teams for all of the kids who want to play.”
“Well, I don’t know much about soccer, and I have no coaching experience.”
“That’s OK! I can pair you up with a great coach, Michael. You could be his assistant coach. He’s awesome to work with and can get you up to speed.”
Have you guessed, based on the title of this post, how I answered Ann? Even though I was a complete newbie to soccer, I took a chance at volunteering to be an assistant coach for a kindergarten soccer team.
Despite working full time during the day, I figured I could spend an hour and a half two to three times a week for evening practices and then help on the sidelines during Saturday games. I was going to be driving my son to and from practice anyway and, of course, attending his games.
That phone call led to me volunteering as an assistant coach for three years and then volunteering to be the team coordinator (send team emails, help distribute uniforms, and organize an end-of-season party) for another four years.
AmeriCorps, an independent agency of the US government that engages Americans in a variety of volunteer work programs, reports the following statistics about parent volunteers collected from 15 years of research:
26,047,892 parent volunteers contribute roughly 2.0 billion hours of service
39.9% of parents volunteer
35.7% of fathers and 36.6% of working fathers volunteer
43.2% of mothers and 46.7% of working mothers volunteer
Parent volunteer service worth an estimated $15.2 billion
So why should you consider volunteering for activities that your kids are involved in? Sure, the kids benefit from participating, but what’s the upside for you?
After years of volunteering as an assistant soccer coach and team coordinator, a Girl Scout troop leader, a steering committee member for high school Band Boosters, banquet organizer, and chairperson for multiple fundraisers, I’ve identified four benefits from being a parent volunteer.
1. Ensuring the activity is available for your child and others
I have always believed that parents should be willing to help out – in some capacity – with the activities in which their children are involved. Maybe not every activity, but if all – or at least most – parents stepped up to volunteer, the activities would be fully supported for their own as well as other children.
When my daughter Rachael joined Girl Scouts in first grade, there were already two moms as troop leaders. Kelly and Sue were great with the girls, but sometimes one of them might have a conflict and not be able to make it to the troop meeting. I offered to get registered with the Girl Scout council to be an adult volunteer so I could easily fill in, as needed, or be extra help during the meetings and outings. A few years later, Kelly needed to step back from troop leader responsibilities, and it was easy for me to take up her role.
Maybe you don’t feel comfortable volunteering to help with some groups, teams, or activities, but there is bound to be at least one where you could help in small or bigger ways.
For example, the adult committee for Ryan’s Boy Scout troop needed some new members, and the committee chair asked me to join. With my Girl Scout troop leader responsibilities, I didn’t feel I had enough bandwidth to take on a committee role. Instead, I offered to take over the holiday wreath fundraiser from another mom whose son was aging out of Boy Scouts. The fundraiser took less time and kept me busy for only a couple months.
Even small volunteer commitments contribute to the success of your child’s activity. All you may need to do is sign up to bring cookies for a meeting, help in the concession stand at a home football game to earn money for your child’s activity or group, be a driver for a field trip outing, or offer to help in the school library.
How might your contributions as a volunteer ensure an activity takes place or can be further enhanced?
2. See firsthand how kids learn, try new things, and gain confidence
One perk from volunteering that I find so gratifying is the “front row seat” to observing how much my child and others are getting from the activities. Over the course of a sports season, school year, or even a few months, it’s amazing how much children can learn and improve as they practice new skills, absorb new ideas and knowledge, or discover something that now is interesting to them.
When Ryan joined his first soccer team in kindergarten, he and his teammates knew almost nothing about how to play the game. By the end of the first few games, they were starting to control the ball and even pass to each other – instead of just running in a pack of kicking feet wherever the ball happened to roll or bounce. Watching kids score their first goals was such a joy for me because they were so proud of their accomplishments.
At my kids’ elementary school, I learned at a parent meeting that there were opportunities to volunteer to assist the computer lab instructor when classrooms visited. I knew I could arrange my work schedule to block off a couple hours once a week. After several weeks with the classes, I would see their computer skills get stronger as they easily became comfortable with logging in, navigating software, and using a keyboard and mouse.
During my years as a Girl Scout leader and adult volunteer, I helped to train older girls to become program aides (PAs) who could then lead younger girls during activities, day camps, and other events. At the first activity or two, the new PAs were usually nervous and sometimes timid, but then I could see their confidence grow as they practiced their leadership skills.
Rachael and Suzi, another girl from our troop, followed this typical process, and by their high school years they were leading activities at day camps and helping to plan and run activities like the annual Cookie Kick-off to teach younger girls about Girl Scout cookies and tips for selling them. Rachael then completed counselor training to work at summer camps. She has parlayed those skills into a career as a special education teacher – with summers spent as an assistant camp director and a waterfront director. Suzi is also now using many of the skills from her PA days in a classroom as a music educator and as one of the directors of the same day camp she loved as a young girl.
Finding a place to fit in
Both of my kids were in high school band, so I got involved after attending the first band parent meeting. Initially, I volunteered to help with uniform fitting and distribution during the marching band camp week at the end of the summer. Over the course of eight years, I became more involved as a band volunteer – joining the parent steering committee, organizing fundraiser events, and ordering uniforms and flags when the color guard was added to the band.
One of the most gratifying things I witnessed each year was how the freshmen absorbed so much during their first marching band season. They took their parade marching experience from middle school and learned how to march in formation on a football field for pre-game and halftime performances. They learned to memorize music to make it easier to march and play at the same time. I and other parent volunteers helped them try on their first uniforms and learn how to take care of them. Most importantly, they found a place to belong as a part of the band family.
Discovering an extra benefit
As much as I enjoyed observing kids learn, improve, and build confidence through their activities, I also discovered an extra benefit for myself and other volunteers: We can learn and try new things, too!
While serving as a volunteer soccer coach, I picked up lots of tips for keeping young kids engaged during a soccer practice with short, game-based drills and lots of movement instead of standing in line waiting for their next turn. I also picked up nuances about the game itself that have enriched my own experience as a soccer fan.
Many years later, I helped prepare the high school marching band to add a color guard unit. I volunteered to handle the purchase of the new equipment: aluminum poles, practice and performance flags, and other supplies. I even learned the techniques for attaching the flags securely to the poles.
How might you see children grow and learn? And what might you learn as well?
3. Meet other adult volunteers and make new friends
I have had the pleasure to volunteer alongside so many other parents and adults all helping to ensure the children have good experiences with their chosen activities. Even more special are all of the friendships I have made with many of them as well.
Coach Michael from Ryan’s soccer team has been a good friend for many years, as has his wife, Michelle. We could just as easily discuss various soccer teams and players but also any topic from gardening to current events. We also enjoy attending Chicago Fire soccer matches together.
Another parent volunteer and now a close friend for many years is Sherri. We first met as Girl Scout troop leaders and later merged our troops and became co-leaders. We also spent hours volunteering together for the high school band – something she continues to do even after her youngest graduated. Outside of volunteering, we have had hours and hours of conversations – and still do despite not living in the same city any longer.
I can certainly attribute the increase to my list of Facebook friends to the many parents and adult volunteers I’ve met and worked with from my children’s involvement with various activities, and together we have shared their many accomplishments.
How might meeting a new friend through volunteering add more joy to your life?
4. Use your own skills and talents
My final benefit to parent volunteering is the opportunity to put my talents and skills to work and even finding ways to improve them.
In my career I organized work projects and supervised teams, so it was natural for me to lend those same skills to my volunteer work. For example, I volunteered to organize the annual Blue and Gold Banquets for Ryan’s Cub Scout Pack and then I offered to bake Italian desserts for his Boy Scout troop’s annual spaghetti dinner fundraiser.
When Rachael was in elementary school, I volunteered to help create the annual yearbook along with some other parents. I enjoyed using my student media experience from high school and college to take photos of school events and prepare class pages.
As a troop leader, I had several opportunities to mentor the girls – when earning badges, learning to plan activities, and deciding how they wanted their troop to operate.
I even found ways to use my sewing skills. I offered to design and sew flags for the color guard, and I made and donated three raffle quilts to raise money to support high school fine arts.
Which of your skills and talents could you use as a parent volunteer?
How to find volunteer opportunities
There are several ways to identify opportunities to step up in small and larger ways. Here are some suggestions:
Check communications from activity organizers, school staff, and teachers. You can find requests for help with specific tasks or for donations of supplies, snacks, or equipment.
Attend parent meetings at your child’s school or at the start of an activity and listen for ways you can contribute your time and talents.
Ask activity organizers or school staff and teachers if there are ways you can help out and let them know your availability, any specific skills that could be useful, or your ability to contribute items the activity or school/class needs. According to PTO Today, parent volunteering and involvement contributes greatly to the student and school success, as highlighted in its Parent Involvement Makes a Different to School Kids video.
Talk to other parents about how they volunteer or if they know of specific needs for the activity.
Think about ways you could initiate something new to improve the experience for children participating in an activity (for example, introduce a team building or skill activity, start a carpooling schedule or organize a fundraiser to help kids earn money defray costs). Then discuss ideas with the activity organizer, coach, or teacher.
What other suggestions do you have for finding parent volunteer activities?
Now it’s your turn
If you are already volunteering, that’s awesome! Let me know in the comments below how you’re volunteering and what you enjoy about it. If you still haven’t found the right volunteer opportunity, keep looking – it’s out there.