Inside & Out: Volunteering, Mommy Style

I was recently talking to a fellow mom-of-three as we chatted at the playground one day.  I was lamenting how I didn’t have time anymore to get involved in community service, to which she responded that she had begun volunteering for a local performing arts company almost a year ago.

“How do you do it?” I found myself asking in the hushed tones usually reserved for sacred spaces or holy events.  Fitting, since I felt as though I were about to hear a miraculous secret.  After I had kids and realized that young children often came with unpredictable schedules, I figured that anyone in a similar situation wouldn’t have time to volunteer.

She shrugged.  “It’s not that hard.  The company’s office is a 10-minute walk from my house.  I put the baby in the stroller, he falls asleep as we walk, and I stuff envelopes for an hour.  I go every couple of weeks or so.”

I tried not to gape at her.  Really? This kind of volunteerism was a new concept to me.  My experience with volunteering centered on programs that required some kind of minimum time requirement and usually required a set schedule.  And sometimes, too, we get so caught up in wanting to make an impact that we forget how much the smaller efforts are also much-needed and impactful in their own right.  In fact, there are many alternatives to what many of us might think of as “traditional” volunteering.  Here are just a few:

A Few Good Hours
Like this mother at the playground, you might want to ease into volunteering with something that you can do at your leisure.  Often, the best places to help out are in your local community – putting a sign in your front yard to remind neighbors and passers-by of an upcoming fundraiser, or calling a few potential donors to ask for a pledge.  And you don’t necessarily have to go anywhere to stuff envelopes with informational brochures – some organizations will even drop off a box with the materials at your house.

Donate Brain Power
If you have certain skills, such as copy editing, web design, or maybe you’re a licensed attorney, considering contributing your specialized knowledge to a local charity or nonprofit organization.  There are countless groups that operate programs for underprivileged students in public schools, for example, that are in need of skilled contributors for odd jobs.  Often, you can complete the work from home, and you don’t have to make an ongoing commitment, either – just take it project by project.

Spend One Evening
For those with older children, volunteering to make dinner one night at a women’s homeless shelter is a great way to help less fortunate moms in need, to introduce your kids to community service, and can be something fun to do as a family.  Most shelters will ask you to make a meal for a small group of tenants, with whom you’ll dine on what you prepared.  Another one-time option is to host an informational meeting at your home for a school fund or public awareness campaign.  Many organizations rely on small community events such as these for spreading information and raising funds.

Or just do your own thing!
It might surprise you to realize how easy it is to run your own charity drive for your favorite organization.  A drive can involve something as small as e-mailing your friends to ask for contributions like clothing and gift cards that you can donate to the charity.  But be sure to contact the organization before you begin, to ensure that you appropriately represent it, as well as follow any rules around accepting donations.

Growing up, Pauline Benninga dreamt of becoming an architect, the President, and a princess, all at the same time. Once she realized that none of jobs would allow her to get any sleep, she abandoned her dream in favor of motherhood. Now that she has three children, Pauline is considering phoning the President and asking him to babysit for a couple of hours while she takes a nap.

Pauline blogs about research that impacts women at

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