Marissa Vogel, local mom of two girls ages four and six, has taken time to answer some questions about her new non-profit, Little Helping Hands.
I was thrilled to see that there’s a local website that is dedicated to helping families find a place to volunteer. Tell us what inspired you to create Little Helping Hands.
When my oldest was 4, I was amazed at how much she could really understand at such a young age. I realized that it was time to introduce her to volunteerism and to teach her the importance of helping others in need. I scoured the Internet looking for volunteer opportunities and there just wasn’t much available for young children. I kept thinking how great it would be to have an online resource where I could view opportunities and sign-up for the activity right there. So when I had a window of opportunity to create an online resource like this, I took it!
Are you originally from Austin? If not, where are you from and how did you end up here?
I’m originally from the Midwest, born and raised in Ames, Iowa. I spent some time on both the west and east coasts and then after graduate school, my husband and I were offered job opportunities in Dallas. We’ve been in Texas 11 years now and in Austin for the past 2 ½ years.
Do you work on Little Helping Hands full-time?
Yes, I wanted to take a more entrepreneurial career path and decided to pursue this full-time. My goal is to build a successful business model in Austin and expand the organization to other cities.
You list different volunteer opportunities on an event calendar. Are those opportunities broken down by age range for the children?
With an occasional exception, all of our activities are suitable for children as young as 4 years of age. In general, the older children just get less parental or adult guidance. I will also try to assign tasks that are suitable to the ages of those participating. In general, I leave it up to the parents to decide what they think their child can do based on the descriptions provided for each activity. I’ve even had a few 3-year olds participate.
Are there strict requirements for getting an event posted on the calendar?
The only requirement is that the volunteer activity is hands-on, suitable for children, and open to the entire community.
Does Little Helping Hands coordinate larger groups, such as offices or schools, to volunteer?
Yes, we will work with schools looking to augment their existing curriculum and service learning programs, and with businesses to create or enhance employee community service programs with family volunteer opportunities. We’ve also supported groups like the Girl Scouts.
Can you give us some examples of where the volunteer opportunities are and what kids will be doing?
All of our volunteer opportunities fall into one of four programs. For example, our Kids Cooking for Charity program involves tasks such as assembling meals or making and decorating baked goods. Our Lil’ Green Hands program involves volunteer activities that support caring for our environment such as gardening or planting, park/city clean-ups, recycling, and harvesting local produce. We partner with other non-profit
organizations or businesses within Austin, or we create them on our own so the activity locations will vary. Typically, though, they are all located within Travis County and most often take place at the beneficiary site. In addition, we do include an age-appropriate educational component in our activities. It’s not just doing the activity itself, but understanding why you’re doing and for whom it benefits.
How do you find out about the different volunteer opportunities around town?
Research, research, research! Either from reading the local newspapers and magazines, through online searches using national volunteer resources, or tips from friends or from networking. I look for organizations that are interested in developing an ongoing partnership with us and that want to broaden their base of family volunteers within their own organization.
Tell us why you think it’s important to volunteer and why kids should begin at an
Volunteering is important because it builds strong communities. Without the help of volunteers, important work that supports so many people or organizations in need within a community wouldn’t happen. Volunteering provides a means to educate our children about helping others without expecting anything in return. It teaches them about compassion and social responsibility. By starting at an early age we create a foundation for a new generation of volunteers. With parental/adult guidance, young children are willing and able to do a variety of hands-on activities if we give them the opportunity. More importantly, family volunteering gives parents/caretakers the opportunity to pass along important values, attitudes, and beliefs to their children.
I spent a short period of my childhood homeless. We spent some time in homeless shelters and relied heavily on donations from church pantries for our food when we had a home. Now, as I am able to provide a home and food for my children, I have considered taking my children to volunteer at a homeless shelter so that they can learn to better appreciate what they have and know that there are challenges that are bigger than themselves out there. When I mention the idea of bringing my kids to volunteer at a homeless shelter, I am often times cautioned by friends. How do you feel about having kids help the homeless? Do you work with any local shelters?
I think it’s important for children to understand homelessness. While I understand why some might caution exposure to a homeless shelter at a young age, I think it’s more important on how it’s explained to the child. I also think this explanation would vary depending on the child’s age. We actually partner with two organizations that provide services to the homeless, although most are primarily indirect opportunities to support the homeless, I would be in favor of a direct opportunity down the road.
Do you and your kids volunteer on a regular basis?
More than ever now!
How often should kids volunteer to get the full experience of helping others?
I don’t have any research on this, but I would like to see kids volunteer at least once a month.
Some families simply can’t make any extra time for volunteering. Are there other
ways that they can help or get involved?
As a non-profit organization I would be remiss if I didn’t say that donations always help, especially as a start-up organization! However, I would challenge families to re-evaluate their schedules and think about putting a higher priority on family volunteerism. It’s an opportunity to spend quality time together as a family, a forum to initiate discussions on important community
issues, and a chance for parents to pass along and reinforce important values.
Is Little Helping Hands in need of more hands? Are there opportunities for working
for the website?
We’ve been fortunate so far to have some wonderful and talented people volunteer for our organization. I’m always on the lookout for people who offer a variety of skill sets and who share our vision. Our goal is to expand our programs and services and to offer full/part-time staff positions down the road.
How has Little Helping Hands changed your life so far?
The more activities we do and the more families and young children I meet and work with, I’m convinced that our organization can make a lasting and positive impact on our children and community. It has also opened my eyes to the many other non-profit organizations here in Austin as well as the many people within our community who regularly volunteer. There are over 6,000 nonprofit organizations in the Austin Metropolis – that’s a lot of people doing great things!
Tell us about the first time you took your children to volunteer.
This was with the Dream Dinners Feeding Families in Need program that we partnered with Dream Dinners on over the summer. Dream Dinners selected 3 families and provided them with 3-months of meals. Little Helping Hands volunteers assembled the meals for the families.
I took my daughters to our first one and they had a blast working with my husband and I to assemble a manicotti dinner. They helped measure, stir, and pour ingredients — great practice for them. The best part was that they would make comments afterward that demonstrated they understood why we were doing this activity and who it was benefiting. More importantly, it gave us an opportunity to have a discussion about why it was important to help others and why some people need help.
Do you see kids walking away with a sense of accomplishment?
From the feedback I’ve received from parents there is a sense of accomplishment by varying degrees – some more apparent then others. The children walk away with a basic understanding of volunteerism and how they can be part of giving back within their communities.
I noticed that you offer Rewards and Recognition for kids who volunteer. Tell us
how that works. Do you have award ceremonies and get-togethers so
that your crew of volunteers have a chance to get to know
We currently have two Rewards and Recognition programs. Our Sweet Treats Rewards program rewards children volunteers with an Amy’s Ice Creams gift certificate for every three Little Helping Hands activities in which they participate. Our other program, Little Helpers 12, rewards those children volunteers who complete 12 or more volunteer activities between June 2009 and October 2010. They will receive a trophy,
special thank you gift, and special recognition at our Annual Fundraiser event in November 2010.
How can businesses get involved? Why do you think it’s important for businesses to
give back to their community?
There are several options for businesses to get involved. We have sponsorships available, or they can make a general contribution to support our programs. As mentioned earlier, we will also work with them to create or enhance their employee community service programs with family volunteer opportunities. Businesses represent such an important part of any community and it makes sense that they should take a key role in giving back whether it is through financial contributions or by providing a volunteer base. Their involvement helps to build strong communities.
What’s your vision for Little Helping Hands in the future?
If we can build a successful business model here in
If you could give out unsolicited advice, who would you give it to and what would you
say to them?
To parents, make the time to incorporate family volunteerism into your lives on a regular-basis. Children have the ability and desire to help out more than you think so start when they’re young so you can inspire them to give back and help others as the move into adolescence and adulthood. Whether it’s participating in Little Helping Hands activities, or doing something on your own or with another organization, you’ll find that it’s a rewarding experience not only for your children, but for you as well.