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Children have often been compared to sponges, because they absorb and learn everything about the world around them. For this reason many experts suggest that getting children involved in volunteering at a young age can help them to grow up to be more community-minded adults and leaders. KSMU’s Theresa Bettmann talked with area organizations that welcome child volunteers, and files this report.
The Humane Society of Southwest Missouri is one local place for budding young volunteers who possess a love of animals. Children 10 years and older can participate in a variety of helpful jobs working with the shelter animals, with an accompanying adult. Danita Rafferty is volunteer coordinator with the Humane Society, and she says that simply being an animal lover is the first step.
"Every volunteer here goes through a one-hour orientation that tells them a lot about our organization. For instance, we are an open-admission shelter versus a no-kill shelter. This orientation is so that they will know what we are about, and so that they can make a good decision about if they want to volunteer here, or if it is not a good fit." Rafferty said.
Rafferty says that it takes a special kind of dedication and maturity to work around the animals, but the both the children and animals can benefit from the situation. She says that once a child has participated in the orientation, the next step is a two-hour training course which prepares them for their duties. The program asks that volunteers work an average of eight hours a month and commit to six months. Rafferty explains what child volunteers get to do.
"They can do a lot of projects here at the Humane Society. They can help walk dogs. They can help socialize cats. They can help do laundry and wash dishes, which I know is probably not really exciting for kids, but it is something that needs to be done around here. They can also help fold newspapers because we use those in our puppy cages." Rafferty said.
Dickerson Park Zoo offers programs that are geared toward young adults. The “Zoo Teens” and the “Zoo Venturing” programs are geared toward kids interested in future professional zoo or veterinary careers. These structured programs are for children ages 14 and up and require an application, interview and training process. Children selected for these programs may either work in educational settings or even side-by-side with zookeepers. Melinda Arnold is spokesperson for Dickerson Park Zoo. She says that their Z.E.B.R.A. engages children ages from 2 years old to 8th grade, and can be a bridge to the zoo’s other volunteer programs.
"The core mission of Dickerson Park Zoo is about educating the public. Being able to engage children is being able to engage the next generation of adults. And for them to become conscientious consumers, participants in the community, and help to protect the natural resources that we have. So whether it's education classes, volunteer programs for youth and young adults, or older adults, there are many ways for the public to get involved." Arnold said.
The Kitchen Inc. works locally to provide resources for the homeless. Children ages 12 and up, with an accompanying adult, can participate in a variety of volunteer activities there too. Sarah McCullem is a spokesperson for the Kitchen. She says that children can help serve meals, pack food, sort clothes, and can really make a positive impact. McCullem says that when children volunteer, it brings about many smiles on the residents’ faces, because it is always encouraging to see kids get involved in the community.
"And if they're younger than 12 years old we encourage children to work within the groups that they belong to. Whether it is scouts, church groups, or groups within their schools or neighborhoods. Doing things such as organizing drives for particular items that we need each season [for summer it would be things like] bottled water, fans, bug spray, sunscreen and personal hygiene products." McCullem said.
McCullem also says that children who wish to help, but may not belong to a particular group, can still help by simply going through their own rooms and donating toys or clothes that they would like to share.
Also, the group Kids Against Hunger allows young children to actually help package food bags that are eventually shipped to places like Africa and Haiti.
You can find links to more information below about volunteer programs for kids. For KSMU News, I’m Theresa Bettmann.
Click here for the Humane Society of Southwest Missoui
Click here for Dickerson Park Zoo
Click here for The Kitchen Inc.
Click here for Kids Against Hunger