5 Great Community Service Ideas for Kids in New York City

Aug. 18, 2017

Let’s teach our kids they’re never too young to make a difference.

5 Great Community Service Ideas for Kids in New York City
Image via Getty Images/Hill Street Studios/Eric Raptosh

As  parents, guardians, and child care professionals, we often find ourselves wearing many different hats at once: We are chauffeurs, short-order cooks, social planners, nurses, and referees. We search for missing action figures, monitor computer usage, check homework, and deal with countless piles of laundry. Yet, the single most important thing in our job description is to raise kind children and instill a sense of compassion in them. Scary as it may sound, we are responsible for raising the next generation of this planet’s citizens, and it’s never too early to start.

If we're fortunate, our children have grown up accustomed to three meals a day, a roof over their heads, warm pajamas to sleep in, new school supplies, and birthday celebrations. Sadly, these are privileges that aren't always the norm for others, and it’s our duty as parents -- and even as babysitters or nannies -- to teach children that not everyone has these luxuries. We have the ability to demonstrate how people can come together to help others less fortunate. Here are five ways families can make a difference today!


One Sandwich at a Time

Address & Hours: Locations & times vary | Click here to view event calendar
Contact: Click here for the contact form.
Minimum Age Requirement: None if accompanied by adult, 16 years old if unaccompanied

Their mission is simple: to feed the growing homeless and underfed population one sandwich at a time. Volunteers meet regularly in NYC locations to make sandwiches together, which they deliver to where they are needed most – food pantries, homeless shelters, and even disaster sites. The delivery portion is handled by a few volunteers and is not mandatory. However, if you do have a car and want the kids to see the whole process -- from sandwich-making to delivering them to the sites -- you may want to offer your services.

Please be aware the sandwiches being made are peanut butter and jelly, so if you or a family member has a severe peanut allergy, you’ll want to pass on this one. If the allergy is mild, arrangements can be made for you to make soy butter and jelly sandwiches.


Brooklyn Heights Synagogue Homeless Shelter

Address: 131 Remsen St., Brooklyn, NY 11201
Hours: Monday - Thursday, Dec. 4 - May 19 | Times vary for cooks and overnight chaperones.
Phone: 718-522-2070
Minimum Age Requirement: Overnight Chaperones, ages 13+ | Servers can be any age.

Image via Facebook/Brooklyn Heights Synogogue

The shelter is entirely staffed by volunteers from the synagogue membership and the community at large. It can accommodate up to 10 men who are pre-screened and dropped off by van in the evening by CAMBA, a social service agency servicing the five boroughs.

Families with children under the age of 13 are invited to prepare and serve dinner to the shelter guests. You can make dinner in the comfort of your own home and reheat it at the shelter or bring the ingredients and make it there. Little ones can help set the table and serve once guests arrive. Families are encouraged to stay and share the meal with guests. Here are the guidelines for cooks.

Kids ages 13 and up are permitted to accompany a parent as an overnight shelter chaperone. This role includes checking guests in upon arrival, serving dinner, and then ensuring the guests are ready for their morning pick-up by CAMBA, which will bring them to a drop-in shelter where they can shower and have a hot breakfast. Volunteers are provided bedding, towels, cots, and pillows and sleep in a separate space. Here are the guidelines for overnight chaperones.


Pajama Program

Address: 114 E. 39th St., New York, NY 10016 (Main Office & Reading Center)
Hours: Times vary, call for more details
Phone: 212-716-9757
Minimum Age Requirement: Volunteers ages 13+ are required to get a state-regulated background check.

Every child deserves warm pajamas and bedtime stories, and the Pajama Program is working to make that possible. Families can come to the Pajama Program headquarters during the day and read stories to children who are registered with the Administration for Children’s Services and are waiting to enter the foster care system.

On weeknight evenings and weekends, families can volunteer to read to the children at the Administration for Children’s Services office. Volunteers ages 13+ are required to get a state-regulated background check to work with the children. Your family can also donate new pajamas and books and send them to the Main Office.


Sean Casey Animal Rescue (SCAR)

Address: 153 E. Third St., Brooklyn, NY 11218
Hours: Open daily, 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Phone: 718-436-5163
Minimum Age Requirement: Must be 18+ to walk dogs | Ages 4-12 permitted to volunteer at the shelter with parent/guardian (restrictions apply)

If your family is thinking of getting a dog, this might be a good opportunity to teach the kids about caring for one. SCAR is a non-profit, no-kill shelter with a family-friendly environment focused on educating pet lovers and owners about the responsibilities of owning a pet.

Drop in anytime to walk a dog and just complete an easy Volunteer Dog Walker application. The actual dog walker must be 18+. Anyone under the age of 21 requires parent/guardian signature. Be sure to bring a working/charged cell phone, as you will be asked to sign out using your name and phone number.

If you’re interested in working with the animals inside the shelter, you must take a one-hour volunteer orientation class. These sessions occur every second and fourth Thursday between 7 p.m. and p.m. monthly at the shelter. Bring a picture ID and proof of address. An email address is also required.


The Birthday Project

Address & Hours: Locations & times vary | Click here for event list
Contact: Email allison@thebirthdaypartyproject.org to register.
Minimum Age Requirement: Ages 13-17 must create account | Background check required for 18+

The Birthday Project is a non-profit whose mission is to give homeless children the opportunity to celebrate their birthday in style. The organization hosts one-hour monthly birthday parties at homeless and transitional living facilities around the country. To volunteer as a “Birthday Enthusiast,” pay a one-time fee of $7.80 for a background check if you are over the age of 18. Once approved, you will be able to login and register for upcoming birthday parties.

Volunteering is simple: show up, decorate, light the candles, pass out the cupcakes, and party like a rock star! The organization suggests volunteers be ages 4 and up. However, keep in mind that different agencies have different policies, so be sure to check before signing up. Groups are welcome, so bring the whole family -- because when it comes partying, the more, the merrier!


Did we list all your favorite community service projects around the city? Let us know in the comments below!

Tips and stories from parents and caregivers who’ve been there.

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