Lend a Hand

In this day of government cutbacks and increased expenditures, more and more child care facilities are turning to volunteers to lend a hand. From the multi-service daycare centre that depends on volunteers to help with everything from facility maintenance to office administration, to the independent dayhome operator who relies on a volunteer reader to come in once a week to help with a child who is experiencing difficulty in this area, volunteers are a positive force in child care.

"Volunteering is the most fundamental act of citizenship and philanthropy in our society. It is offering time, energy and skills of one's own free will," says Volunteer Canada on their valuable Web site, Volunteer.ca. "Volunteers impact virtually every aspect of society, including health, education, social services, youth, culture, sports and recreation, the arts, and the environment."

Benefits of Volunteering

Volunteering also enriches the lives of those offering the service; it brings meaning, fulfillment, and growth to their lives. Whether the volunteer is taking a scenic stroll with a group of children, or helping a special needs child learn to write, it gives a feeling of pleasure and goodness.

While most child care providers think of parent participation as their sole source of volunteer support, nothing could be further from the truth. Initiatives are being taken across North America to recruit parents, seniors, employees, and anyone looking to local child care efforts through volunteer action.

In North Carolina, for example, the Child Care Services Association (CCSA), a non-profit, United Way agency committed to improving the affordability, accessibility and quality of child care, has set up a program called, With Our Many Voices. Volunteers can access the Our Many Voices Survey online, complete the registration process, and then discuss with the CCSA ways they can assist in a capacity matched to their own interests.

Volunteering Helps Children

Volunteers assist in child care in a large number of ways like:

    * Housekeeping duties; setting up and cleaning after snack, cleaning up after playtime, and preparing play activities
    * Kitchen duties; preparing nutritious meals and snacks
    * Advocating for better child care with local, state, provincial and federal officials
    * Providing professional skills and services including secretarial, catering, plumbing, accounting, management, carpentry, tutoring, public relations, fundraising, legal, medical, dentistry, writing, counseling, etc.
    * Preparing stories and helping with curriculum ideas
    * Transporting children to and from activities and appointments
    * Teaching a group of children computer skills
    * Collecting books and other learning materials for use in the facility
    * Sharing a hobby
    * Contributing in-kind services and materials: copying, printing, food, computer equipment and assistance, electrical supplies, building materials, etc.
    * Donating household goods or other items: kitchen utensils, furniture, books, toys, games, stuffed animals, dolls, and diapers.

Parent Participation

Without a doubt, however, parent participation continues to dominate the volunteer aspect in child care. In fact, many organizations reward parents to do so, offering 10% to 20% discounts on monthly fees for parents who volunteer a certain number of hours in their child's program. Other programs make it easy for parents to help out from home with such tasks as preparing mailings, making telephone calls, and writing newsletters.

A Day of Caring, usually one or two weekends throughout the year, is another incentive used by caregivers and centre directors to encourage parents to come out and help paint walls, fix up the outdoor area and equipment, anything that will take a good day to complete when a multitude of hands are available. The participants are then treated to a pizza or potluck lunch hosted by other parents or the daycare owners.

Still other programs offer Read-To-Me Incentives, whereby parent volunteers who participate in reading to the children will receive free book for their child once they have completed so many readings. Books are donated by local bookstores, churches, business, etc.

Finally, volunteer award days offer appreciation for the dedicated people who help make a child's world brighter through their selfless efforts. These days are as simple as an appreciation tea with the children handing out handcrafted cards and flowers, to gifts the children picked out as a special thank you.

As with any type of volunteer program, providers need to understand that parents who do not participate in their child's care have their own reasons for not doing so. To that end, a parent's reasons for not volunteering must be respected. It is extremely important that an issue never be made of parents who do not help, especially in front of the children. To learn more about this topic, childcare.net encourages visitors to read the valuable materials at The Hard-to-Reach Parent - Old Challenges, New Insights, from the Urban Education Web site, ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education, Columbia University.

The Power of Public-Private Partnership

Corporate social responsibility is fast becoming a key part of many companies’ social investment programs.

Fall Community Care Day, in Boston, held on Sept. 13, 2001, exemplifies this approach to corporate involvement in child care. One of the largest volunteer efforts in the state, over 1,800 corporate workers from more than 50 local companies stepped out of their everyday jobs to lend a hand at 65 human service agencies throughout greater Boston. They worked on special community service projects, ranging from painting and landscaping, to spending time with elders and taking preschoolers on field trips.

Companies can demonstrate their support for volunteerism in various ways, such as matching volunteer service with cash grants and providing paid time off for volunteer activities. Other examples include:

    * Allowing employees to use paid time each month to volunteer as reading tutors at local schools or child care centers.
    * Encouraging parents to use leave time to attend preschool events, parent meetings and parent-teacher conferences.
    * Adopting a child care center or family resource center as a corporate volunteerism project.
    * Offering the use of company resources such as a photo copy matching and paper, etc.
    * Giving time off or flextime to encourage employees to serve as volunteers and/or board members of non-profit child care centres or organizations
    * Using company communications in the form of an employee newsletter, Web site, paycheck envelopes, orientation sessions, company e-mail or voice mail, management briefings, etc.) to provide information about volunteer opportunities available in the child care sector.
    * Matching gift contributions programs to organizations at which their employees are volunteering.

Getting Started

In most cases, when it comes to finding local volunteers to assist with child care programs large or small, all you have to do is ask. Knowing who to ask may take a bit of creative thinking and planning however, especially if you've never opened your door to volunteerisn. We've provided a fast "how-to getting you started" article in our Management Tips feature below. And we've included many valuable resources in our Web Stuff section.