Our daughter is very compassionate. In fact, she might think about the problems others have to a fault. When I was her age, I was worried about people hurting my family and nuclear war, so I understand...kind of. I never had the passion she has for legitimately wanting to make life better for other people. Lisa says that Helena wants to be more like Jesus, helping those who are sick or hungry. While I can appreciate her desire to help the poor, tired, and huddled masses, it’s not easy finding a way for her to help. This is partially because of her age, but it’s also because Lisa and I (and certainly Helena) have a standard for what helping others really entails. We want to know how to spend time usefully.

We tried with the easier way of allowing her to feel like she was helping others, taking her to visit elderly church members. The problem is that when you take your little girl to brighten up a man’s day at the hospice, and then a few months later she’s singing for the family at his funeral, it’s not the kind of thing you want to have to do several times a year. Both kids did great, and we were so proud, but I can’t help but feel it would be difficult on them emotionally to continue that kind of service. The other one we did was have them perform at Luther Manor. Again, they were wonderful, but, again, I think Helena wanted to help people get back on their feet in some way, not just entertain those who have lost the ability to walk on their own. And maybe it’s just the desire to try a new angle that she wants. Our two other shut-in visits were quite boring for the kids, but they did their jobs of being cute and making an elderly person smile. She seems to be ready for her next job, but we’re kind of lost searching for it.

Most websites I found when searching for “volunteering for kids” or something similar were guides for adults who wanted to volunteer. Some sites had options for kids 13+ to volunteer, but there was very little for the very little ones. Therefore, Lisa and I had to try to figure it out for ourselves a bit. We wanted to come up with something Helena could do that she was passionate about and would allow her to participate. Here’s our train of thought.



walks and runs

I almost hate to put this in print because of the popularity of these types of events, but both Lisa and I are not in favor of walks and runs. Two main reasons: you’re not helping anyone specifically and your money is being spent on the walk before it does help those who need it. Obviously, the better solution would be to volunteer to cook a meal for someone you know with breast cancer, then send a check directly to the foundation of your choice that helps support her. It’s really that simple. If you don’t know anyone with the disease or that person has passed on, I get it, but then just go for a nice walk in the woods and send in a check. I mean, unless you’re actually racing and trying to win some kind of award for fastest charity runner or something. I know, someone out there hates me right now, but please tell me why in the comments below. And not a story about losing a family member. Tell me why a walk, organized by a group that takes a cut of the proceeds, is better than going for a walk with friends and sending in a check. If you explain it well, you win.

And, off the high horse. Helena has never asked to participate in a walk/run because she notices the obvious: it’s a fundraiser and not a way to individually and directly help someone. Therefore, we have avoided these.


old folks homes and hospices

As mentioned earlier, both kids have gone to these facilities. They did well, and they understood why the people liked seeing kids, but Helena certainly was not excited about going again. It was uncomfortable. That’s why everyone reading this should make their kids perform in front of a nursing home or for someone in a hospice at least once. But don’t make your kids do it monthly unless that really what they like, because even I could feel the oppressive fog of depression at the nursing home. On the other hand, if you really have your kid participating in beauty pageants or other kid talent crap, take a week off and perform at the nursing home instead in order to bring yourself and your child back to reality.



art museums

I’m not sure why, but the volunteer website I was using has many options at several art museums. I found this ironic because art tends to be something the wealthy enjoy, meaning that the volunteers would be helping out an organization that caters to the wealthy. Sort of a reverse Robin Hood kind of thing. When I looked into it, I don’t think they were really looking for kids, anyhow. There just happened to be several opportunities. I suppose I could volunteer to clean someone’s ten bathrooms or pool, too, or cut down trees that obstruct a view of the lake from the conservatory.



heavy lifting

A lot of volunteer opportunities involved heavy lifting of some sort, which meant it was not viable for a 10 year-old in the 10th percentile in size. These would be volunteer opportunities that involve building things or moving things. I see it as a group of people doing  work together that one person could not do alone, like the old-fashioned barn-lifting. I think this is probably a great form of volunteering, and I tried to do it a couple of times over the years. Both were thwarted by bureaucracy, but I liked the ideas. Unfortunately, there is often an age limit of 18 or higher for the heavy lifting jobs, and Helena is kind of a lightweight.




Helena probably could tutor. Every teacher she’s ever had has said she has the innate ability to help other students without putting them down or giving them the answer. That’s a pretty nice compliment for a girl in 5K. However, most places that run some kind of tutoring program prefer 13+ or 18+ for their tutors. Maybe it’s because kids don’t get tutored until at least middle school. This is one I will keep in mind, and if you know of an option that would work for a younger tutor, please post it below.




I can’t even believe, after going through the list of possible opportunities, that I actually mentioned this one to Lisa. We are inundated with fundraisers each school year. We hate them, and we hate having to be the ones who make others hate them, as well. But that’s what happened: I could not think of a good alternative, so I gave up and suggested Helena start a website that does fundraising for a favorite cause. And while I can build a pretty awesome website, and Helena can sell Girl Scout cookies with the best of them, it was the wrong answer. Mainly,  it’s once again not helping people directly. It’s also not getting her close to the problem. She’d be able to do the standard posting of sad photos online from the comfort of her living room.



soup kitchens and homeless shelters

Helena wanted to do this kind of thing. Lisa was apprehensive, and I never found any organizations willing to take a 10 year-old. However, it was interesting to read Elizabeth Uihlein’s commentary (in the Uline catalog) about what to do with the homeless. Keep in mind that Liz’s net worth is probably over $1 billion, and she and her husband gave several million to elect, re-elect, and re-re-elect Scott Walker. Anyhow, Liz said in her essay that she is afraid of the homeless people that litter the streets when she heads out to the theatre. She also suggested that, since most of them are drug abusers and have mental issues, if she gave them her money when they ask for it, they’ll more than likely spend it on drugs and alcohol. Not to dwell on her thoughts too long, since I’m sure that’s not something that happens often, but she does fail to mention that 20% of male homeless folks are veterans (and that number has gone down nearly 70% since 2005 because of some efforts by the VA, which I’m positive Liz supports as much as her efforts to see A Midsummer Night at the ballet.) Basically, without the VA efforts, 30% or more of homeless males are vets, not just drug-addicted alcoholics. That should make it a bit harder to ignore.

I know I got slightly off-topic, but Liz asked for suggestions, so I thought I’d just add to her conversation. If you want to see where over $7 million of her own donations HAVE gone, check out the Illinois donations website. Not too many homeless vets on that list, anyhow. But she’s probably just waiting for the readers of the catalog to come up with a better solution, so here’s what Helena said: build a house, and maybe with a church, and let the people live there. Ironically enough, here’s an article about a VA project to spend $7 million dollars to house 24 homeless vets. I guess there’s your answer, Liz. Or are you so worried our homeless vets will buy booze and be mentally unstable because they fought to defend your rights that you’d rather spend the $7 million to elect politicians? Liz, if you’d like to add to the conversation, please do so in the comments section.




I really have to apologize to the Uline family after all that. You have the right to make billions of dollars and keep it from the rest of us. That’s America. But it does lead me to the next option for Helena’s volunteering, which is to help the refugees. No, not the 90s band The Fugees--actual refugees. From other countries, like ones that we send our military in and then leave them hanging, only to feel a little guilty years later and offer them a house in the crappy part of town and some free blankets. Those refugees. Our church sponsors some, and we know the wonderful people who give a lot of themselves in order to help them out. The volunteers told us Helena could help carry the clothing and food to the door. Maybe not James as there is some worry about being overwhelmed by people at the door. These will also be deliveries in rough neighborhoods (not the theatre district), so I’ll probably have to go instead of Lisa. That’s OK, since this idea seems to fit all of the requirements. All except we’re not really making the clothing or food ourselves, but I think the personal delivery will make it important. Then we’ll see what she wants next.

Maybe Helena will want to join the Peace Corps. Maybe she’ll want to work at the soup kitchens or package food at the food pantries. Maybe she’ll want to donate $7 million to Republican politicians. Maybe she’ll want to become a doctor. Maybe she’ll just want to run for a cause, but it’s our duty as parents to provide her with legitimate options so that she doesn’t walk past someone hurting someday and just quote talk radio stats as she heads home to her mansion. That’s why we’re so proud that she wants to be more like Jesus each day. And we really do hope that Elizabeth and Richard Uihlein and the whole filthy-rich family join us in that endeavor. You, too, homeless veteran or downtrodden refugee. Even Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill.




You might think that two things are clear from this article: I’ll never get offered a job at Uline and volunteering at a young age is difficult. But that’s not entirely true. Uline might be able to recognize true talent, and we’ve found a way for Helena to make a difference before she’s old enough to legally have a Facebook account. In some ways, the fact that you never know for sure is the problem with volunteering or donating. Do you know the money will be used wisely? Do you know your service will be appreciated? We all want that feedback and justification, even if we’re billionaires considering whether to throw a quarter at a homeless man. To be fair, I found at least one website that listed Uline as a matching donation company, so if  you work at Uline, make sure you ask them to match your donations to a cause that helps the homeless, even if you don’t plan to give $7 million.