Though some might imagine the typical volunteer as a college student gaining valuable life experiences in a far-off country, the truth is that all types of people generously donate their time and energy every day. More than ever, this includes families volunteering together while on vacation.
Beyond the benefits that volunteering can have on the community, the values it instills in young people are priceless. Children and teens who volunteer learn life skills, develop empathy and gain a feeling of self-respect and confidence that will last well into the future. To help you plan a volunteer vacation, here are five destinations and programs that you can share with your entire family.
Farm Sanctuary - Watkins Glen, New York
Located in the majestic Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, this animal rescue and adoption facility — the largest of its kind in the country — provides care and treatment for a variety of livestock, including cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and wild donkeys. Visitors can tour the grounds or reserve one of several picturesque Bed & Breakfast cabins located on-site. If accompanied by a parent, children between the ages of 12 and 17 can volunteer for a six-hour shift as a farm assistant, with duties including fence repair, barn cleaning, gardening and painting. An unforgettable experience for young volunteers with a passion for protecting animals, Farm Sanctuary has been in business for three decades and also includes two locations in California.
Youth Rebuilding New Orleans - New Orleans, Louisiana
One of the most deadly and destructive natural disasters in the history of the United States, Hurricane Katrina caused devastating effects to New Orleans that are still felt to this day. Thankfully, organizations like Youth Rebuilding New Orleans (YRNO) have made an enormous difference to those whose lives were impacted by the storm. YRNO hosts volunteer groups of all sizes and ages, from school trips and church groups to individual families. As new homes continue to be built in the city's hardest hit areas, volunteers are needed to help with everything from demolition and framing to painting and landscaping. Teens who are at least 15 years old are encouraged to donate their time and energy to this important humanitarian cause. Children under 15 require a parent or guardian to be present.
The Lanai Cat Sanctuary - Lanai City, Hawaii
It's one thing to adopt a kitten or two, but it's quite another to care for more than 500 of them. And that's why this nonprofit cat sanctuary, located on one of Hawaii's most tranquil islands, needs your family's help. Dependent on the charity of visitors, the Lanai Cat Sanctuary was established in 2009 to care for the island's large cat population. Today, the facility's mobile veterinary clinic offers an individualized treatment plan for each cat, including sterilization, X-rays and medical services. Volunteers of all ages are needed to help feed, clean and care for the sanctuary's friendly feline residents, and to deliver much needed items like cat beds, play toys, baskets and clay litter.
The Solmar Foundation - Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
With ocean views, fine dining and world-class swimming pools, Solmar Hotels and Resorts offer visitors to Cabo San Lucas the most relaxing family vacation imaginable. Yet as committed as they are to providing guests with an experience they won't forget, the company's nonprofit Solmar Foundation is equally passionate about caring for the needs of the surrounding community. Supplying much-needed medical, social and educational services to the poorest citizens of Mexico's Baja Peninsula, the Solmar Foundation takes volunteers on a twice-weekly guided tour of the area's charitable organizations, including the San Miguel Nursing Home, the Cabo San Lucas Orphanage and the San Juan Diego Shelter. Guests can bring toys, school supplies, stickers and coloring books, as well as new or gently used clothing for women and infants, which will then be distributed directly to those who need it most.
Globe Aware - Orosi Valley, Costa Rica
Since 1990, the nonprofit organization Globe Aware has been creating short-term volunteer opportunities around the world for people who want to give back, regardless of their experience levels. Though they regularly assist solo travelers, church groups and corporate clients, family volunteering has become one of their most popular categories. The program they offer in Costa Rica's stunning Orosi Valley is particularly suited for families with children. All projects are designed for unskilled volunteers and include tasks like teaching English, installing road signs, building recycling stations and constructing chicken coops. Volunteer vacationers in the Orosi Valley can stay in one of several mountaintop houses, complete with electricity and laundry facilities onsite and healthy and delicious Costa Rican meals.
When you've decided which volunteer vacation is right for your family, visit united.com to book your trip.