Outdoor Volunteer Opportunities for Families

Enjoy fresh air, fitness, and fun--and help others at the same time.

Father and son painting mural
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For busy families, volunteer work is a fantastic multi-tasker. And active, outdoor volunteer opportunities for families offer even more benefits: along with supporting a cause and spending time together, you also get physical activity and "green time." Consider the following ways to give back to your community with your kids by your side (some are more appropriate for tweens and teens, but others should be open to even the smallest young helpers).

1. Trails, Parks, and Sanctuaries
Public outdoor spaces need your help! On National Public Lands Day in September, you and your family can help clean, repair, or enhance a public park or trail. You'll be benefiting other visitors as well as the wildlife that also calls these lands home. In 2014, volunteering on Public Lands Day even earns you a free visit to another public park, any time in the next year. (Each volunteer who participates in National Public Lands Day at Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, US Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or USDA Forest Service public lands may receive a fee-free coupon.)

Similar spruce-up efforts happen at public trails on National Trails Day in June. And at any time of year, you can contact your local parks and recreation department or nature center to ask about outdoor volunteer opportunities for families. You can also help insects, birds, and animals in your own backyard by turning your property into a certified wildlife habitat—a great option if you have young kids or a crazy schedule.

2. Sports for Kids with Special Needs
Programs that help kids with with special needs participate in sports need volunteers, just like other youth sports do: people to help coach, manage facilities and equipment, and so on. These special leagues also often partner their players with typically developing kids and teens for physical and emotional support.

If your teen loves softball, she could volunteer to help another child learn to love it too!

3. Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups
It can be a big commitment, but if your family loves animals, especially dogs, you can work together to help walk, train, and socialize animals awaiting adoption.

4. School and Community Gardens
Bring kids along when you help weed the school vegetable plot or spread mulch in public areas at a community garden. You'll sow the seeds of generosity as well as teaching them how to care for plants.

5. Charity Fundraising Events
Whether you like to run, walk, or hula hoop, you can probably find a fundraiser that lets you support a good cause while participating in a fun fitness activity. Sign up for a fundraising event with your family, or volunteer to work at one; the nonprofits that put together these events always need helping hands.

6. Family Volunteer Day
Mark your calendar for the Saturday before Thanksgiving, when you can participate in an existing family-friendly volunteer opportunity via the HandsOn Network, or create your own. Year-round, check with VolunteerMatch.org to find outdoor volunteer opportunities for your family, when and where you want to be.

7. Outdoor Sports Venues
Sometimes volunteering is driven by a little self-interest, and that's OK!

Your favorite outdoor sports might need your help to maintain places to play. If you're into mountain biking, check out the International Mountain Biking Association's Teaming for Trails effort. If paddle sports are your thing, find out if you can help with National River Cleanup.

8. Wildlife Counts
Here's an outdoor volunteer opportunity that awaits you anytime you go outside: wildlife counting. Scientists rely on community reports to help learn about the health of various wildlife populations. You and your kids can be part of that community through projects including Wildlife Watch, FrogWatch USA, and NestWatch.

9. Volunteer Vacations
Add more meaning to a family trip by including outdoor volunteer opportunities. You can sign up to help care for animals at Best Friends Sanctuary in Utah, for example, or participate in coastal cleanups through Ocean Conservancy or Surfrider Foundation. 

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