Girl Holding Puppy; Courtesy of Yashkin Ilya/
All Ages

7 Fast & Fun Volunteer Vacations for Families

See recent posts by Jackie Perrin

Rescuing rain forests in Costa Rica and building new schools in Africa are commendable efforts. But what can you do when you want to make an enduring impression on the kids, but are on a tight schedule and budget? Volunteering on vacation for just a few hours can make a lasting impact. Consider these short-term, big-return volunteer vacation opportunities, all open to children.

1. Help a Puppy

After you admire the amazing animals at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, pay a visit to nearby Palmetto’s Southeastern Guide Dogs Headquarters, where you can visit with some pups and use your crafting skills to make dog collars. Family volunteers can either make the crafty collars at home and mail them to the center or visit with the dogs while volunteering on vacation.

If you have some time and are looking for even more “paws-itive” experiences, you can sign up to walk a dog or take a campus tour. Volunteer dog walkers must be at least 16 years old, but younger family members may accompany an age-eligible volunteer. Campus tours are $10 per person, one hour and 15 minutes in, duration and best suited for older children.

Give Kids the World Village; Courtesy of Give Kids the World

2. Scoop Ice Cream or Help Host a Halloween Party

For many young children, a magical trip to Disney World tops their travel wish list. But for some very special “wish kids,” the dream is even more meaningful because it represents the joyful peak of a journey often fraught with the trials of medical treatments, physical and social challenges, and adult-sized worries. After giving thanks for your own good fortune while visiting “The Happiest Place on Earth,” why not make an effort to aid the voyage of another family by donating some of your time in the Give Kids the World Village?

At the storybook vacation resort in Kissimmee, children with life-threatening illnesses and their families enjoy an expense-free vacation to central Florida’s famous theme parks, along with VIP treatment throughout the entire week of their stay. As a visiting volunteer, you’ll be part of the care team for these special celebrities, by scooping ice cream for breakfast, painting nails at an onsite makeover salon, helping to host a luau, coordinating a Christmas parade or handing out candy at Mayor Clayton’s weekly “Hare-Raising” Halloween-themed party.

Volunteers must be at least 12 years old, and those 17 and under must be accompanied by a parent or adult on the family volunteer trip. Two weeks advance notice, completion of an orientation session, and a background check (for adult applicants) or parental agreement (for applicants ages 12 to 17) are required.

3. Save a Sea Turtle

If you’ve ever marveled at the miracle of miniature sea turtles emerging from a sandy nest, you might be interested in the opportunity to share the message of conservation on a family volunteer vacation. During the spring and summer months — prime sea turtle nesting season — scores of volunteers patrol 47 miles of the Alabama shoreline, marking sea turtle nesting sites, monitoring dangers like predators and bright lights, and counting babies as they hatch and safely make their way to the water.

While it may not be practical to serve as a beach patrol volunteer, which requires participation in a spring orientation session and presence during the busy nesting season, you can still lend a hand in the cause and also witness the positive effects of your contribution. Through Share the Beach, a cooperative effort of civic and environmental organizations, you can sponsor a sea turtle hatchling or adopt an entire sea turtle nest, which you can arrange to visit and observe on your next Alabama Gulf Coast beach vacation!

Destinations across Florida and such as Myrtle Beach offer similar programs where organizations such as the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, the Sea Turtle Conservancy, and the North Myrtle Beach Sea Turtle Patrol, work to save threatened and endangered sea turtle species — one hatchling at a time — through adoption programs and hands-on opportunities.

Run Disney; Courtesy of Disney

4. Help Others Stay Healthy (and Reap Sweet Rewards!)

In recent years, the fan base for sporting events held at Walt Disney World Resort has grown exponentially, with a number of popular themed “RunDisney” races selling out in record time. Whether you missed the registration deadline or you just prefer to watch from the sidelines, you can still get in on the fun by helping staff events to benefit charitable causes like PE4Life, Special Olympics and the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, while also reaping sweet rewards for your health-promoting efforts.

Through the Disney Sports Enthusiast Program, volunteers ages 12 and up can help staff a Disney sporting event, from manning a water station to handing out race packets. Volunteer rewards vary by the event, and range from free snacks, sports apparel and accrued rewards points to complimentary Disney World tickets.

A minimum age may be required for some positions and volunteers 15 and under must be accompanied by an adult. A parental waiver may also be required.

5. Pack for a Purpose

Do you really need to cram five stuffed animals in your carry-on luggage? On your next overseas trip, consider omitting just one or two fluffy friends or saving some corner space in your checked bag, and you can make a major difference to residents of developing countries.

In more than 50 countries around the world, Pack for a Purpose presents families with a surprisingly simple way to make a big impact with a minimal amount of effort, simply by filling empty space in their luggage with items needed by charitable projects. Beneficiaries, which are identified by resort partners, range from rural schools to animal rescue organizations. In some destinations, sponsoring resorts, like Beaches and Grand Pineapple Resorts in the Caribbean, offer associated family volunteer trips where you drop off much-needed supplies to underprivileged schools and spend some time with the locals.

6. Travel with Purpose

Carnival’s Fathom cruise is your ideal family volunteer trip that offers loads of play time by a gorgeous pool in the Caribbean, but will also leave a social impact on the people of the Dominican Republic — and an even bigger impact on your own family. Fathom cruises to Cuba for an immersion experience as the first cruise line to sail from the U.S. to Cuba in more than 50 years. And it also sails to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic to the Carnival port, Amber Cove.

Amber Cove offers families numerous amenities and things to do. There’s a huge pool, kid’s splash pad, a zipline across the pool, waterslides, restaurants, shops and so much more. And while there is plenty of time for fun, this family volunteer vacation comes with a purpose. Families can sign up for different “social impact” activities like planting trees, making chocolate bars, constructing water filters or concrete floors in homes or teaching English to students in the classroom. Volunteering families can sign up for multiple social impact activities during your three-plus days in the Dominican Republic and can marvel at the fact that each week, new travelers and families are making an impact and building on the progress of the travelers before them. This cruise offers a volunteer vacation for families that your children will never forget.

7. Travel Kind

Kind Traveler allows families to volunteer on vacation before you even arrive at your destination. This “Give and Get” site offers families an exclusive hotel rate as a reward for donating to a local or global charity. Kind Traveler highlights the property and its “kind factors” as far as sustainability, wellness and community and then links the traveler directly to the hotel for booking.

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