As in most parks and recreation departments, you probably offer a crowd-pleasing array of programs, such as road runs, craft classes, senior excursions and soccer clinics. How about adding an additional element to a class or activity? Pick a project and encourage participants to get involved in volunteering. Many people have a vague feeling of, “I know I should volunteer but don’t know where to start.” Your department can be a way to involve children and adults in finding opportunities to help the environment, other people or animals.
Put Those Dance Costumes To Good Use
Does your park department have dance classes, followed by the traditional recital? You know the routine–adorable pre-school girls dressed in sparkly costumes wave to their parents from stage, disregarding any skills learned from their 12 weeks of dance lessons. What happens to those costumes after the recital? Ask people to donate used costumes to a Head Start or Boys & Girls Club program. Kids who normally couldn’t afford dance lessons get to dress up in frou-frou costumes and dance to their own beat. I remember when my daughter’s dress-up box had 12 glittery costumes crammed inside. It felt good to donate them, knowing some other little girl could prance around in a tutu.
Sponsor A Shoe Collection Drive
Some researchers with too much time on their hands came up with this statistic: the average woman in America has 30 pairs of extra shoes in her closet! I’m sure you guys also have some seldom-used shoes. How about asking all your parks and recreation participants to donate their gently worn shoes to Soles4Souls? This amazing 501(c) 3 agency distributes one pair of shoes every 28 seconds! Its goal is to impact the lives of as many people as possible through the gift of shoes. Publicize a few drop-off points for participants to donate, such as park and recreation-sponsored soccer tournaments, concerts and road runs. After you’ve collected the shoes, simply pack them in sturdy boxes and ship to a Souls4Soles warehouse in Alabama or Nevada, whichever is closest.
315 Airport Road
Foreign Trade Zone #89
6620 Escondido Street
Las Vegas, Nevada89119
They will sort the shoes and ship them to orphanages, flood or disaster victims and other needy people around the world. So far, millions of shoes have been sent to Russia, Romania, Africa, Guatemala and locations around the United States. Get more details at www.soles4souls.org.
Wash Lost And Found Items
When I worked for BellinghamParks and Recreation, we had a central location for lost and found items. At the end of each summer, we were overwhelmed with the number of sweatshirts, like-new shoes, hats, blankets and sports equipment left behind. I once counted 52 almost-new beach towels alone! After numerous notices asking people to search for their items, we donated everything to charity. Several parks departments tell me they enlist volunteers to wash the clothes and clean any shoes or sports equipment. Then, instead of donating to the closest Goodwill, the items are given to an agency that works with foster children. Many of those children lack basic clothing, so a “new” jacket or towel or even a baseball mitt is greatly appreciated. This is a great volunteer project for people looking to help out by doing something at home.
Build A Neon Birdhouse
According to the Teenage Marketing and Lifestyle Study, teens rank volunteering, the environment and eating healthy as top three activities they consider “cool.” Take advantage of the coolness factor by offering teens a chance to volunteer. One parks department invited teenagers to build and paint a variety of birdhouses in wild colors, complete with neon paint. For many of these teens, using a hammer was a new experience.
Afterwards, the teens attached the birdhouses to trees around the community center and frequently pointed out “their” birdhouse to friends. You certainly won’t end teen crime by offering a birdhouse-building program, but you will get some teens to spend a few hours interacting with parks and recreation staff while participating in a volunteer activity. It might just be the catalyst to have a teenager say, “I guess there is more to life than video games!”
Collect Sports Equipment
Think about the soccer balls, baseball bats, gloves, rollerblades or basketballs you use in parks and recreation programs. Most of us take it for granted that we can easily find a basketball to play a pick-up game. But not all kids have the money to buy sports equipment. Sponsor a drive to collect sports equipment and donate it to a Boys & Girls Club or other organization for under-privileged kids. Pass out flyers at softball or basketball registration, asking people to bring sports equipment in good condition to the first game. Parents willingly donate extra sports equipment when they know it goes to a good cause.
When the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe hit, people quickly volunteered to help. They saw a need and did what they could to improve the situation. In the same way, people often want to volunteer, and simply need to be asked. By incorporating volunteer opportunities in your parks and recreation programs, you set the stage to encourage people to share their resources and talents.
Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects. She presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation-related subjects. She can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.