Originally conceived as a post-election, Thanksgivingish set of wonderful service project ideas encouraging the whole family to do good together, these giving-back ideas work year-round but especially when mixed generations settle in for longer visits. This guest article on family-friendly volunteer ideas is by Asha Dornfest and Melissa Sher.
For many of us, celebrating holidays with our extended family is already tricky emotional territory. But this year, the election has unleashed a level of personal division we’ve never experienced before. Family members’ voting choices have caused rifts to open up between relatives, and wildly different reactions to the election results — even between people who voted the same way — have left people feeling isolated and misunderstood. Some of us are at such a loss we’re wondering if we should just cancel holiday plans altogether.
The fact is that for families who are struggling post-election, there’s no simple answer. Coming to terms with the election may require the kind of communication few of us can manage peacefully during a brief holiday break.
Given that, perhaps the best way to find our way back to each other is to approach it from a different angle: generosity. Teaming up to perform a service project together shifts the focus from our differences to what we can do for others.
Service projects don’t have to take much time; they don’t even have to involve leaving the house. All you need are some willing hands and open hearts. You’d be amazed by how working together to help others can lighten the mood and let gratitude sneak into the conversation. Who knows? There might even be some laughter.
We’ve gathered 30 ideas for service projects you can do with your extended family during the holidays. Give one a try. At the very least, you’ll go home knowing your family did something together that made the world a little better. At a time when kindness is more important than ever, that’s no small thing.
1. Go On A Treasure Hunt… For Donation Items
Why not make a game out of giving? Charitable giving expert Cheryl Debruler of World Vision recommends creating an “at home treasure hunt with children to collect what is not being used, what hasn’t been used in a long time, and the extras around the home.” These items can then be donated to your local community program.
2. Open Your Home To Someone Who Is Alone
If you know someone who is alone during the holidays, invite them to join you and your family for your meal. As Rachel Tabbouche of UCFit tells us, “Having a home-cooked meal and being included can turn a lonely holiday into a heartfelt event.”
3. Make Pictures And Letters For Distant Relatives
There’s no reason a service project can’t include members of your own extended family, particularly older relatives with whom you may not be in regular contact. Have family members write letters (on the back of children’s artwork!) and send them — with photographs — to family or loved ones who are in your hearts, if not your home.
4. Fill Out Your Family Tree
Another way to be of service to extended family members is to recognize their precious value as family historians, says Stu Mark. Ask older relatives to fill knowledge gaps in the family tree. Consider interviewing them and recording their stories about their childhoods, backgrounds, and experiences. Write down what you learn and share it with the rest of the family.
5. Rake And Bag Leaves For A Neighbor
The wise founders of 510 Families (who, us?!) remind us that there is a very good chance that someone in your own neighborhood can use extra help having her or his leaves raked, garden weeded or grass mowed. For those in your house who aren’t involved in cooking or cleaning up after a holiday meal, consider tackling a yard project for someone else before or after you eat.