The increased presence of “voluntourism” activities within some, or all, vacation itineraries in the last few years proved travelers gain a greater appreciation for a destination when interacting with local communities and the day-to-day existence beyond the confines of a posh resort. Naturally, there are numerous travel agencies, and resorts with programs specializing in philanthropic itineraries serving communities in Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia.
However, there are plenty of communities and people within North America that also can benefit — and do — from similar programs aimed at families. Kids, teens and even parents come away with the kind of priceless memories and souvenirs that come from making a difference while experiencing elements of their home country in greater depth.
- Give Kids The World Village, a stone’s throw from Walt Disney World, is a 79-acre Kissimmee, Florida-based, non-profit resort powered by volunteers providing kids with life-threatening illnesses (and their families) a carefree, week-long vacation. Parents can get the kids involved by incorporating three- or four-hour volunteer shifts into their vacation plans. Scooping ice cream, delivering pizza, staffing the Village’s rides and helping plan evening events will teach kids valuable lessons about empathy, patience and community while making others their age feel included and reconnected with the world.
- Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa offers a perfect adventure for families with younger children staying at the resort: hands-on time with the area’s native sea turtles, introducing kids to conservation and protecting native wildlife. Peak nesting season runs through August, and with complimentary access to the conservation facility, kids get face time with biologists and volunteers for hatchling releases. A percentage of the proceeds are donated to the Loggerhead Marinelife Center to adopt a sea turtle in their name.
- Keys Voluntourism offers a variety of enriching volunteer opportunities, running the gamut from coral restoration to wildlife rescues, fundraising and building homes with Habitat for Humanity via direct links to Florida Keys charities, non-profit organizations and foundations. There’s also a calendar of events so you can find volunteer opportunities by date. Cheeca Lodge & Spa supports these organizations and can book experiences and help facilitate voluntourism logistics.
- At the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, guests are encouraged to volunteer and interact with indigenous communities through the resort’s “VolunTeaming.” Interested family groups set time aside to support local conservation efforts by helping enhance strategically chosen and culturally significant locations with the assistance and direction of the resort’s Cultural Advisor Clifford Nae’ole. Activities are done in collaboration with local non-profit 501(c)3 partners.
- While New Orleans is still recovering from the effects Hurricane Katrina, Youth Rebuilding New Orleans empowers kids 12 and older to help parents and other adult volunteers rebuild and retrofit homes sold to local families and teachers.
- California’s The Nature Corps coordinates volunteers on behalf of such national treasures as Yosemite, Sequoia, Morro Bay and Hearst Castle. Philanthropic adventures, usually three days, include environmentally focused activities such as cleaning and replanting meadows, restoring wildlife habitats and replacing invasive plants, often alongside biologists and other science professionals. Proceeds from its all-inclusive “voluntours” support its regular student volunteer and conservation program.
- Children as young as 6 already involved in their community’s animal rescue efforts will be enchanted by the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the nation’s largest no-kill animal sanctuary. Young animal lovers (with their parents) tend to cats, dogs, rabbits, horses, pigs and other creatures. The sanctuary offers a free Kids Camp during the summer months, as well as opportunities to adopt a new best friend. As site visits are popular through most of the year, planning and booking shifts and activities through the website are strongly advised.
- While the Sierra Club is a perfect place for active families to turn to when researching and planning outdoor-focused vacations, America’s largest environmental organization operates seven family-centric, week-long trips throughout the country (including teen and grandparent-grandchild trips) and other journeys. Volunteer activities include improving the conditions of trails or creating animal habitats. Though family service trips are not operated outside of the summer months, according to one of its directors, trips are open to participants under 18 with the trip leader’s approval or you can plan ahead for summer 2019.