Volunteering with Little Helping Hands: Austin Bucket List for 2015

2015 Austin Bucket Lists

We say it all the time, but we do truly believe it: Austin is an amazing place to raise a family. With this in mind, we’re on a mission to go discover all the things which make our town special. To help get out more without getting overwhelmed, we came up with the Austin Bucket List project. Each year, we pick 10 things we’d like to do in Austin — with or without our kids. That sounds doable, doesn’t it? Then, we document our adventures here, with the idea of getting each of you inspired to do the same.

What’s an endeavor like this without a few friends along for the ride? We asked our blogger friends in Austin who’d like to join us on the Austin Bucket List project, and we were thrilled to have several takers. Today’s report is from Skye Kilean, who explored a new shady park with her son in her last installment. This time, Skye and Boy Detective are giving back. Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

Volunteering used to be a big part of my life, but since I had kids it’s somewhat fallen by the wayside. We did a little family volunteering with Goodwill in 2014, but then the time slot for the activity we were doing with them conflicted with something else. It’s tough to find volunteer activities that include children… and that are indoors during the hot summer. I enjoy park cleanup as much as the next girl, but not in July.

Enter Little Helping Hands. It’s an Austin nonprofit that organizes volunteer opportunities for families every month. Their mission is to “engage young children and their families in community service and inspire lifelong volunteerism.”

As a former volunteer coordinator, I have pretty high standards for volunteer opportunities. I like things to be well-organized and run on time. I like 100% clear instructions for participants. I like knowing that the work I’m doing is making a difference.

So how was our first Little Helping Hands volunteer experience? It was great!

We signed up to help Dell Children’s by making decorations for the Emergency Department. We got a confirmation email that we were signed up, good directions on where to go for the activity, and a discussion guide to help with conversations ahead of time about the purpose of the activity. (It wasn’t hard for seven year old Boy Detective to understand why cheerful decorations would be good in the kids’ ER, since we had patronized that fine establishment three times this past school year.) When we arrived, there were clear signs directing us to the conference room where we’d be working.

The Little Helping Hands coordinator was checking folks into the event, and giving out cards to kids who hadn’t done an activity before. For every three activities a child completes, he or she gets free ice cream from Amy’s.

She had setup jobs ready for the kids who wanted to get started, so we passed out scissors, glue, and spangly stars to the 8 tables.

Two nurses came in to greet everyone, explain the project and how it helped the kids who come to the ER, and then we were off!

It was one of the most cheerful afternoons we’ve had the pleasure of joining. Kids were happy making art, parents were chill and friendly, the staff was helpful. No one fought over art supplies. Very few kids seemed to have an issue with “giving away” the piece they’d just worked so hard on, and I heard a couple of parents giving good and gentle reminders to the kids who were struggling with it.

About 15 minutes before the end of the activity, it was time to clean up, and I was SO glad they had the kids help. Volunteering shouldn’t be an activity that leaves staff with a huge mess! The kids were great about collecting different things and repacking them into containers.

(I wanted to offer to vacuum, because I have never seen so much glitter in my life. Unfortunately our ride was there to pick us up, so we had to wrap it up.)

Overall, the kids and parents had created well over 70 pieces of art to liven up the ER and various other rooms. We were running out of space to store them all.

Once cleanup was over, each child could pick a snack, provided by Whole Foods. Since we’d been working for a few hours, it’s smart to realize that many younger kids will be hungry by then.

What you need to know:

Little Helping Hands has activities for children as young as 3 years old. However, check the description of the activity you’re interested in, as a few have age restrictions. You also want to make sure the activity is a good match for your specific kiddo.

If you want to her about opportunities each month as they’re posted, register and sign up for their mailing list. Then stay glued to your email, because spots go FAST, especially for weekend volunteering. I just found out that when you become a regular donor at $30 per month, you get access to signups before the general public, and I’m seriously considering it! That said, in both June and July I was able to get a slot that worked for us without much trouble, because I did see the email when it popped up.

The Little Helping Hands signup email sends you to a different website, VolunteerSpot, which is a great resource for anyone organizing volunteer events on a regular basis. (Boy Detective’s old school used it to get people signed up for shifts at the school carnival, for example.) If you make an account here ahead of time, it’s less confusing when you try to sign up for a Little Helping Hands activity.

(In addition to Amy’s and Whole Foods, Little Helping Hands is supported by the Topfer Family Foundation, Henna Chevrolet, McKool Smith, and individual donors. THANK YOU to all the folks who help this organization further their mission!)

We have our second volunteer job already lined up, at the Ronald McDonald House. We can’t wait!

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