finding a way to volunteer with my hands full

A little over a year ago, Jen and Mad celebrated their first anniversary of social justice marriage, and a year of encouraging online activism in a little corner of the blogosphere with the Just Posts. As part of that celebration, they asked for Just Post participants to consider giving a gift: to take our activism beyond the online world, and to commit to volunteerism. In the real world. I scribbled a hasty I-owe-you of a post, promising to them (and to myself) that I would write more about my past volunteer work, and to find a way to do more volunteer work.

I’m ashamed to say that I have made no substantial progress in that area since that post. My main excuse has been overload. At the time I was teaching a class, trying to plow forward with my research job and degree-related projects, and suffering from first trimester morning sickness. Since then, I was busier than ever getting ready for conferences, traveling, and trying to move forward with my degree before my impending due date. Then I was busy with parenting a newborn and a toddler, while still trying to keep a foot in my research job.

I really want to do volunteer work, but I haven’t found the time or energy.

Theo will soon start daycare, and I will then need to work harder at making up hours I owe from my not-quite-maternity-leave stretch. With two children in daycare, the costs of childcare and occasional commuting to my job will probably just about equal my net income from my graduate stipend. John is super busy with his work, and already putting in long hours at parenting as it is. We can’t reasonably take time away from his work time or mine for me to have a few child-free hours to put into volunteering.

But I have an idea.

My hope is that I can find meaningful volunteer work where I can bring along Phoebe and Theo. I would like them to grow up with the acceptance of service as being a normal part of life, and including them seems a good way to further that goal.

So, my plan is to start investigating ways that I can volunteer with a baby and toddler in tow. I am very much open to suggestions, and would love to hear from any who have experience doing such things. Jen has inspired me on many occasions with her mentions of bringing her daughter M along with her to work in homeless shelters. Holly wrote about the doors opened for her in her research on public health by bringing along her small children.

My past volunteer work with resettled refugees was very important to me. I signed on as an ESL tutor, with goals of gaining experience that might be applicable to my studies and career. What I found, though, was that I was often able to help in more ways that just helping with language: I helped negotiate bureaucracy, helped interpret bills and other notices that came in the mail, and answered questions about life in the US.

It has occurred to me that many refugee (and other immigrant) families also have small children. I love the idea of getting together with such a family to help with their English or otherwise provide insight into US culture, and having Phoebe and Theo along with me to play with and get to know young kids from another culture. I’m hoping to find an organization that will be amenable to such an arrangement.

My next step is to start contacting some groups. I’ve identified two or three that I’ll try, and I plan to send some emails. I’ll try to have an update of my progress next month.

15 thoughts on “finding a way to volunteer with my hands full

  1. Absolutely PERFECT!

    I LOVE it.

    I used my car to make home visits with nurses and help out local community health workers, who were overwhelmed with requests — if an organization is hesitant to allow you to provide services with the kids, you could offer some sort of home visit thing (provided it was with another community professional, etc.)

    Along the note of other ideas, you could always start a school ( — although this one was significantly harder than the first. :-)

  2. This is a great idea! I love the idea of volunteering in the form of making friends with families of new immigrants. Hmm … maybe I could do that and work on my Spanish at the same time!

  3. I recently joined the board of directors of a small literary magazine based in my town (The High Desert Journal; it’s excellent, please subscribe : ). Some of the work I can do from home, but once a month I have to attend a board meeting. Last month I brought my kids. Bad Idea. The other board members thought the kids were cute, but I was not able to contribute meaningfully to the discussion. So: about 3/4 of the board work is compatible with child-rearing but 1/4 is not. I find it an acceptable ratio. Maybe you can find something like that, too — not perfect, but workable.

  4. Have you considered visiting aged care facilities? Many elderly residents live far away from their families and don’t get to see their own grandchildren. I’m sure they’d love a chance to read some stories with Phoebe and give Theo lots of hugs.

  5. I’m interested to see if this works for you. I’ve felt for a long time that I need to do SOMETHING but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it and not sacrifice kid time. I hope it goes well!

  6. That’s a great idea. Do they have the Roots of Empathy project in the States. It involves bringing and infant to a classroom once a week for a year so that the kids get to know a baby and a baby’s needs. It’s not culturally specific but it is one way to volunteer with a babe.

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