By Laura Abruscato
Volunteering with your kids is easy to put on your to-do list, but can be hard to make happen in reality. Finding community service opportunities where children can get involved is easier said than done. And it can be intimidating showing up at a new location with your children in tow, not quite knowing what to expect.
Palisadian Amy Lehr’s new organization, LA Families Give Back, aims to make the process easier. Lehr has years of experience volunteering with her two kids, Toby, a sixth grader at Paul Revere Middle School, and Lucy, a ninth grader at PaliHi, and in 2014, founded a sister organization, NY Families Give Back.
In the process of obtaining official nonprofit status, Lehr maintains websites that feature family-friendly volunteer opportunities with descriptions and the ability to sign up for volunteer spots. She also writes a newsletter to participating families and aims to connect families, kids and teens to existing volunteer opportunities as well as create new ones.
When possible, Lehr and son Toby investigate each organization to make sure it is a worthwhile cause that is kid-and-parent friendly. “We make sure that we feel safe, that there’s a bathroom, parking, that we feel good about it,” says Lehr, before including it on the website.
She and her husband Scott, who runs a content marketing firm, moved to the Alphabet Streets two years ago from Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.
She continues to run NY Families Give Back, where she has 400 families involved.
“I’ve gotten fantastic feedback,” says Lehr, who has families booked through June at a soup kitchen in Brooklyn. “Families are putting it on the calendar once a month. For the soup kitchen, all they are doing is setting the table. They’ve started the day helping their community; it just feels good.”
Lehr thinks of her websites as a hub where families can find all different opportunities —some are happening every weekend, others are once a month, such as Village Green and Heal the Bay clean-ups and One-One Outreach food packing and distribution. Others, such as a school beautification, are a one-time event.
Several of the 50 families signed up so far have utilized the website to find community service opportunities for their middle-school students, as many local schools require community service hours.
“The other thing that I’m working on, which I did in New York, is starting programs where they aren’t already, says Lehr, who visited Atria Senior Center in the Palisades to look for opportunities. “They have an incredible calendar of events.” She has organized for families to come every Saturday at 11 a.m. to participate in family-friendly events that the residents are doing, such as arts and crafts, and games.
“The residents are thrilled, bingo is fun and the kids can enjoy it,” says Lehr. “It’s a good way to start volunteering for elementary school kids.”
Lehr did a lot of volunteer work growing up, including working in a soup kitchen for a summer in high school, and volunteering at an inner-city school.
“I started my program 3 years ago in Brooklyn when my kids were at a good age to start volunteering but it was just so hard. I called government offices, churches, all kinds of places, but nobody wanted a child.
“I was certain other people were having thesamedifficulties,”Lehrsaid,notingthat today she’s “madly trying to get more activities.” She also fields requests from religious school groups, Girl Scouts, and classrooms that want to do volunteer work. “I really do believe that when kids start volunteering at a young age, they’ll see how good it makes them feel and they’ll bring others into it.”
Visit lafamiliesgiveback.org for more information.