Jenny Milliron and her 3-year-old daughter Evelyn have a standing appointment on Tuesday mornings. They visit the Waterford Grand Assisted Living facility in Eugene as volunteers, along with other families, as part of Little Hands Can, a nonprofit that connects parents and children with local service opportunities in the community.

“When I heard about Little Hands Can, I thought, ‘This is wonderful; this is just what I’ve been looking for,” Jenny says. “I was excited to find an organization that I felt fit a need that I saw in the community.”

Through the Happy Helpers program, Jenny and Evelyn, along with other parents and young children, work together on special projects and spend time with the seniors at Waterford Grand.

“Today, we’re making cards together for an organization called Cards for Hospitalized Kids to show our support for kids who are sick and need cheering up,” says Rachel Henderson, the director of the Happy Helpers program. Happy Helpers is one of four programs offered through Little Hands Can to encourage volunteerism among families with children of all ages.

Creating volunteer opportunities
Little Hands Can started five years ago when two local moms were looking for opportunities to teach their kids about the value of helping others. At the time, most volunteer opportunities had age restrictions that did not allow small children to participate. The Little Hands Can program helps families teach their children that no matter their age, helping others is important.

“Even if it’s something small, like making cards that help children feel better when they’re in the hospital, little acts can make a big difference in someone’s day,” says Christine Renken, a mom of five who volunteers with her children through Little Hands Can. “I think it’s really important that my kids understand that their actions can improve someone else’s life.”

Ashley Bohanan is the executive director of Little Hands Can and volunteers with her sons. She says she’s seen positive changes in her kids since being involved with community service projects.

“I feel like kindness is just part of our vocabulary every day. My kids are noticing needs in the community and trying to brainstorm possible solutions to those problems. And I don’t think that is something they would have done had it not been for us starting to volunteer this young and talking about it on a regular basis.”

Benefits of volunteering
Giving to others not only makes you feel good, it can also help protect your mental and physical health by reducing stress and depression by keeping you mentally stimulated and by providing a sense of purpose.

“From the time that little kids are able to help others, it’s really important for them to lend a hand and to keep doing that throughout their school years,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “That way, volunteering becomes part of their personality, part of how they feel the world should work.”  Volunteering is a great family activity. Working side by side provides opportunities for conversation and connection. When the whole family participates on a project, parents and children get to see and appreciate each other’s skills and competence.

Volunteering also fosters empathy. Being directly involved gives both parents and kids a deeper appreciation for what they have and what others need.

“It’s one thing to talk to your kids about being empathetic or being kind or being compassionate, but to show them how to do it or to create opportunities to practice that compassion—I think that is one of the best parts of Little Hands Can,” Jenny says.

Get involved
Little Hands Can has helped serve more than 50 organizations, including Food For Lane County, Greenhill Humane Society, Eugene Mission, Bags of Love and City of Eugene Parks and Open Spaces, donating more than 6,000 volunteer hours.

To get involved, check out the Little Hands Can events page. Click on the activity that interests you and sign up. All of the nonprofit’s service projects are age-appropriate and free for families to participate.