Last year, my son and I were introduced to the concept of required community-service hours. He had to do 12 hours of them to pass the sixth grade.
You will, perhaps, not be surprised to learn that we forgot all about those hours until a week before they were due.
During our last-minute search, we discovered many opportunities for kids in Houston. Cole got his hours volunteering at Hermann Park, the Multiple Sclerosis Association and his school, Corpus Christi Catholic School.
If you don’t remember community-service requirements from when you were a kid, that’s because such requirements, for schools and for clubs like The National Honor Society, didn’t become common until the 1990s. Initially, families sued, pointing out that “mandatory volunteering” fits the definition of forced labor. Those suits were unsuccessful.
These days, many high schoolers have to log up to 100 hours of community service to graduate. School clubs often have additional requirements.
“This whole city is crawling with kids looking for volunteer hours,” says mom Sydney Morrow.
VolunteerMatch (volunteermatch.org), an online search engine, reports surges of activity at the end of semesters, as kids race to get their hours.
So, how are families finding volunteer gigs for their kids?
“I was on Facebook,” admits mom Mo Houston. “I commented on an old high-school friend’s pictures of a trip to Peru. He said he had taken them during a mission trip he helped lead. When I told him my daughter needed community-service hours, he invited us along.”
Last June, Mo and her daughter Rachel, who had just completed her junior year at St. Pius X High School and needed 100 hours of service, met up with the group when it stopped in Houston to change planes.
“Rachel climbed aboard that plane not knowing a soul,” said Mo, “but it turned out to be a life-changing experience.” Mother and daughter spent twelve days in Piura, Peru.
“As far as the eye could see were people living in, not even shacks, but shelters built of whatever they could find,” said Mo. “And we worked, hard, all day.” They built shelters and a school, delivered food and taught Bible school.
More than a year later, the Houstons remain in daily contact with the friends they met on that trip, and they plan to return.
Miller Friedman, 17, needed 60 hours per year for his school, Alexander Smith Academy, when his mom, Lauren, signed him up to volunteer at Buster’s Friends, (bustersfriends.org), an animal-rescue group.
While Miller needed 60 hours for school, by fall, he will have logged over 700 hours at Buster’s Friends. He now plans to pursue an animal-rescue career.
Lauren heard about Buster’s Friends from her friend, Melissa Anderson, who volunteers there with her daughter Emily, a sixth grader at Spring Branch Middle School. “We got involved about 2½ years ago, when we were just out shopping, and Emily begged to go in and see the animals,” says Melissa, who teaches at Hunter’s Creek Elementary.
So what can you do to ensure your child not only fulfills the requirement of community service but finds some real satisfaction doing so?
“We get calls of desperation sometimes, a kid who needs to do 20 hours in two days,” says Cherry Frye of Volunteer Houston (volunteerhouston.org), which has special summer programs to help kids volunteer, which include adult supervision and sometimes transportation.
Follow their interests
“Kids should find something they can relate to and enjoy,” says Miller Friedman, “so it’s not like a job or a burden to do.”
Kids and their families can schedule shifts with the Houston Food Bank online (houstonfoodbank.org). Ryan Huiszoon, who just graduated from Lamar, did many of his hours there. “Once you’re registered and you’ve worked for an organization before, it’s easier to schedule a shift if you need one at the last minute,” points out his mother, Jacquie Dey.
Robert Rosenthal of VolunteerMatch suggests not only looking for child- or teen-friendly options, but also checking the “good for groups” button, even if you’re not in a group. “These are the ones that are going to be more social in nature,” he says.
In the end, it can be about more than checking the requirement off your child’s to-do list.