After-school or weekend volunteering enrichment programs offer children the opportunity to discover new interests, develop new skills, hone existing talents, and learn valuable life lessons. San Antonio provides many opportunities for children of all ages and backgrounds to explore. The best part? Many of the city’s programs are free! In this four-week series, we will showcase activities designed to engage everyone from the preschool Picasso to the high-tech teen and every nature lover, sports enthusiast, and animal activist in-between. Read part one on STEM enrichment, part two on arts enrichment, and part three on outdoor enrichment.
One of the greatest things we can do is help others, and it’s never too early to start. Studies show that when children volunteer, they develop empathy and an enhanced perspective of the world. They learn life skills, social skills, and an appreciation of what they have in their own lives. And, because many organizations require parental supervision of minor volunteers, it can be a wonderful opportunity for family bonding time. A bonus? Volunteering enrichment activities are an excellent way for youth organizations and high school students to get their community service hours.
A Wonderful Opportunity
A common misconception is that Morgan’s Wonderland is an amusement park for children with special needs. The fact is that both the 25-acre theme park and the new Inspiration Island water park are fully accessible and open to all ages and all abilities. The result is a completely inclusive environment that can be enjoyed by anyone.
“It’s a safe space where everyone can play together,” describes Brynn James, Event and Volunteer Manager.
Both parks offer opportunities for youth to volunteer that provide them with plenty of training and opportunities to learn more about inclusivity for the differently abled. Children under the age of 14, and their parents, can take part in the group volunteer efforts that include park maintenance and operations. They learn the importance of keeping the park clean and safe for the guests by removing trash, landscaping, and sanitizing.
Individual volunteer opportunities exist for those ages 14 or older, although anyone 16 and under must still have a parent or guardian present. This group spends more time one-on-one with the guests and must undergo orientation and training on how to interact with those who have special physical or developmental needs. First and foremost, they learn how to keep guests safe and enforce appropriate boundaries. They also learn to be mindful of physical differences. Things like high-fiving someone with a prosthetic arm, or stepping back rather than bending down to speak to someone in a wheelchair, go a long way at making those with physical disabilities feel seen and included.
“When you stoop or take a knee to communicate with someone in a chair it can feel condescending,” explains James, adding that volunteers are taught to always ask whether or not a guest requires assistance rather than just assume. “Many of our guests come to the park because it provides a safe place for them to practice their independence.”
The most important thing the volunteers learn is that individuals with special needs are just like everyone else. They want a place where they can play and have a good time and it is up to the volunteers to make sure they feel comfortable.
“We want to remove the idea of ‘other,’ describes James. “Our special needs guests are just like all of our other guests, they just need different tools to do the things we do every day.”
For more information on Morgan’s Wonderland and how to volunteer, visit morganswonderland.com.
A Hunger To Give Back
If you think three- and four-year-olds can’t make a difference, you’re wrong. At the San Antonio Food Bank, these “littles” get a kick out of packing, sorting, and making snack bags for families in need. You can also find them getting their hands dirty in the Urban Garden, a 25-acre farm where they help with things like planting, digging, weeding, and watering.
“The little ones have a great time in the garden and it teaches them where food comes from, and how to work together and help others,” says Jessica Garibay, Volunteer Lobby Coordinator. “Even kids with special abilities can help.”
Teens ages 15 and up (with a parent) can assist with curbside pickup by carrying boxes of food to waiting vehicles. Sixteen-year-olds are eligible to work in the state-of-the-art Community Kitchen. Here, they can assist with making meals, and assembling the food trays that will be distributed to families in the WIC program. For the older kids, the work becomes even more meaningful as they begin to connect how the distribution of food affects so many families, maybe even someone they know.
“At the end of each shift, the pallets of food that volunteers help assemble for distribution are weighed and the children are told exactly how many people will be fed by each one,” says Garibay, adding that the children become so engrossed they often ask to stay for additional shifts. “They are always blown away when they make the connection about how many people the SA Food Bank serves, and they begin to understand its importance to our community. They are excited to be part of that effort.”
Visit safoodbank.org for more information about opportunities for volunteering enrichment.
A PAWsitive Difference
Making a difference in the life of an animal is so much fun, that it hardly feels like work—making it a popular choice for families and young people looking for a way to give back to the community. San Antonio’s oldest and largest true no-kill shelter, the Animal Defense League (ADL), offers three different levels of opportunities for children, beginning with the Junior Volunteer program for ages 12–15 (when accompanied by a parent or guardian) and continuing with general volunteering for ages 16–18. From kennel cleaning to dog walking, to helping in the ADL hospital, working with the development and marketing team, or assisting at adoption events, there is something for every age and every interest. The best part? The kids get as much out of the experience as their four-footed friends and they develop an understanding of how to use their voices to help those who cannot speak for themselves.
“Here at ADL, our Junior Volunteer program provides firsthand experience for kids to develop a keen sense of awareness about the importance of providing compassion and care to a shelter animal,” explains James Lucano, ADL Community Relations Coordinator. “The sense of accomplishment through volunteering directly affects their confidence and encourages teambuilding with staff and other volunteers. Junior volunteers build on their strengths and their time spent in the program has a positive impact for them and on our animal residents.”
For more information on how to be part of ADL’s mission visit adltexas.org/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities
More Resources for Volunteering Enrichment Activities
Everyone can do something, and no effort is too small. In the words of President Theodore Roosevelt, “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” Check out the activities below for more ideas about volunteering enrichment opportunities—or create your own!
San Antonio Humane Society
On-site opportunities abound for ages 16 and up, but younger children can make a difference by holding donation drives or making toy donation bins to be placed at the shelter and other stations around town. To learn more about the San Antonio Humane Society, visit sahumane.org.
With a motto of “play it forward,” the DoSeum’s volunteer programming includes “Discovery By Doing” for children ages 14–18. Not only do they develop valuable skills, but participants also earn 100+ hours towards the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Visit thedoseum.org/volunteer to learn more.
San Antonio Parks and Recreation
Children as young as eight years old can help with litter pick-up initiatives and learn the value of keeping our public spaces clean. Visit sanantonio.gov/ParksAndRec/Want-to-Help/Volunteer for an extensive menu of volunteer opportunities through San Antonio Parks and Recreation.
San Antonio Botanical Garden
The Youth Volunteer program at the San Antonio Botanical Garden teaches children ages 14–17 how to help with both horticulture and informal education, and builds public speaking skills. Visit sabot.org/volunteer for more information.
Charter Moms Chats
Watch Brynn James, Events and Volunteer Coordinator at Morgan’s Wonderland, and Nadia De La Garza, Development and Marketing Manager at the Animal Defense League, speak with Inga Cotton on Charter Moms Chats on August 30, 2022 at 4:00 PM Central live on Facebook and YouTube.
Brynn James is the Events and Volunteer Coordinator at Morgan’s Wonderland
Nadia De La Garza is the Development and Marketing Manager at the Animal Defense League. A full-time professional in non-profit leadership, Nadia is also the full-time caregiver to her mother with early-onset dementia. Having seen the calming and stabilizing effect pets have on their owners firsthand, made joining the Animal Defense League team an easy decision. Their mission closely matches her passions, pets, and people in crisis. Nadia attended Clark High School and holds a degree in marketing from UTSA. She is truly a San Antonio woman! Professionally, Nadia has experience with project management, sales, event planning, and marketing. She is committed to animal welfare and the San Antonio community.
Read Our Four-Part Series on Enrichment Activities
- “STEM Enrichment Programs for San Antonio Kids,” Bonny Osterhage, San Antonio Charter Moms, August 9, 2022
- “Arts Enrichment Programs for San Antonio Kids,” Bonny Osterhage, San Antonio Charter Moms, August 16, 2022
- “Outdoor Enrichment Programs for San Antonio Kids,” Bonny Osterhage, San Antonio Charter Moms, August 23, 2022
- This post, about volunteering enrichment activities
Read More About Volunteering Enrichment Activities
- “Students of Service (SOS) Helps Teens Engage Through Volunteering,” Amir Samandi, San Antonio Charter Moms, May 31, 2022
- “Fostering Dogs as a Family Community Service Activity,” Ramona Gutierrez, San Antonio Charter Moms, July 7, 2020
- “San Antonio High School Internship and Volunteer Opportunities,” Amy Johnson, San Antonio Charter Moms, May 31, 2019
- “Animal Shelter Volunteer Opportunities in San Antonio for Kids,” Amy Johnson, San Antonio Charter Moms, February 28, 2019