A Summer Break That Gives Back

When the kids moan, “We’re bored,” get them excited to make a difference. Try these ideas to help keep kids busy and benefit others at the same time.

April Mock, a manager on the MyPanera® team, has seen firsthand how much kids love to help others. MyPanera recently e-mailed members living in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area, to inform them of a volunteer opportunity at the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. 

“This was a new initiative to bring a community together to make a difference,” says April. At this event, more than 50 customers and associate volunteers from local bakery-cafes helped sort more than 26,000 pounds of food in less than two hours. Approximately six of the volunteers were kids in their early teens, and their response was overwhelmingly positive. 

“One of the nicest things about the event was that even the youngest volunteers (who were ages 12 and up) were able to become leaders,” says April. “It was really inspiring to watch them take on that type of role.” 

Learning important life skills is just one of the benefits for kids who volunteer. Studies show that teens who help others can improve their grades and self-esteem. They’re also less likely to engage in risky behaviors as young adults. What’s more, a 2012 study found that even toddlers feel happier when they’ve done something kind for someone else. 

The Harrisburg pilot program was a huge success, and Panera hopes to organize similar events in other communities in the future, says April. Until then, look over the list below for some fun ways to give back this summer.

  1. Pick up litter at the playground or park.
  2. Plant flowers or do yard work for an older neighbor or on the grounds of a charity organization such as a shelter.
  3. Go through closets for gently used clothing or toys to donate to local charities.
  4. Volunteer to re-shelve books or read to younger kids at the local library.
  5. Work a shift at a fund-raising event such as a fair or 5-K walk.
  6. Participate in a 5-K walk or run for charity.
  7. Write letters or send a care package to members of our military.
  8. Collect old towels and bedding to give to an animal shelter.
  9. Record some favorite books on a CD and give it to a local hospital or child care center.
  10. Visit an assisted-living home and read to residents or play games with them.
  11. Collect pennies or other loose change throughout the summer and then decide where to donate it.
  12. Collect old sneakers from friends, family, and neighbors and contribute them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe recycling program (nikereuseashoe.com).
  13. Make microfleece scarves or handmade ornaments that you can donate in fall or winter.
  14. Assist an instructor in a younger-kids’ class for dance, martial arts, soccer, or other activity.
  15. Tutor a younger child in schoolwork to help them get a head start for next year.

For more opportunities near you, check out neighborhood newspapers or websites (such as patch.com), contact a local worship or community center, or search at volunteermatch.org.