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What's a family? It can be kin, nuclear, single parent, blended, extended, friends, colleagues, roommates, neighbors. If YOU think you are "family," you are! Volunteering together will support the relationship and help your community at the same time.

1. Find the opportunity

Create a list of Make A Difference Day project ideas. Here are some family-friendly ideas to consider:

  • Visit a local nursing home or hospital.
  • Deliver meals, gifts and blankets to shelters for the homeless, the abused or to families in need.
  • Volunteer with a local council to help people learn to read.
  • Take a homebound elderly friend to lunch or dinner.
  • Drive homebound residents to doctor appointments, to the grocery store or to visit friends.
  • Arrange youth history hour at a nursing home where older people tell children about their own history.
  • Coordinate a food drive for people in your community.
  • Organize a community garden to beautify an unused plot of land.
  • Ask a hospice what entertainment they would like to receive and work with a family to organize the event.
  • Take your family out with other neighbor families to clean up the community. Select a nearby park, nature preserve, beach or other public area to beautify.
  • Help a local non-profit agency with a mass mailing or recruit blood donors by telephone.
  • Become a surrogate family for adults who are developmentally disabled and include them in your family activities.
  • Partner with another family to repair or paint the home of an elderly couple or a needy family.
  • Organize a car wash, window washing or yard day for a needy nonprofit or social service agency.
  • Organize a community "closet cleaning" and donate old clothes and other items to a homeless shelter or other organization.
  • In towns where no collections are in place č collect recyclables (paper, cans, glass, plastic, batteries) and bring them to a nearby recycler or start recycling in your own community.
  • Write or read letters to visually-impaired individuals. Sharing the work The Abbott family of Henderson, N.C., encircles the Rev. Winston Blackwell; they helped Blackwell cut down trees that blocked the path to restoring a church steeple.

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2. Hold a family meeting

  • Choose a project that everyone can get excited about. Try to find a project that will give you a chance to meet families that are different from yours.
  • Find a project that has something that each person can do. You don't all have to do the exact same thing. Each person can have a different piece of the puzzle to put in place.
  • Let each family member speak!
  • If all of that does not work, create an opportunity! Your school, church, employer, volunteer center or other local non-profit group can help you structure something that will meet its needs and use your family's talents.

    3. Do it!

    Focus on your family's interests, like the environment, and develop volunteer experiences around that issue. Have each member of the family bring information to share about the issue from school, from the library, from the newspaper or from TV.

    • Begin a family journal, where family members take turns writing a paragraph or two weekly.
    • Watch TV programs together that address issues of interest to the family. Discuss the issue and what your family can do about it.
    • Use meal times creatively. Plan your next volunteer outing. Talk about what you have learned through past volunteer experiences.
    • Encourage your children to tell how what they are learning in school relates to the family's community service.

    4. Reflect and thank one another

    • Appreciate and celebrate the hard work you have done together by treating yourselves to ice cream or taking a walk in the park after you volunteer.
    • Take time for reflection. Talk about your volunteering experiences. Sharing is part of the fun, brings families closer and provides a way to discuss other important issues and ideas. This can be a learning experience for the whole family.

  • More In Make A Difference Day

    Make A Difference Day, the largest national day of helping others, is sponsored annually by USA WEEKEND Magazine and its 800 carrier newspapers. Make A Difference Day takes place on the 4th Saturday in October each year.