Heather Jack wanted to find an organization for her daughter and herself to volunteer for together in Boston, and couldn’t find one. So she started her own organization that helps families nationwide find local volunteer opportunities. Since then Volunteer Family has participated in many other programs to teach children the power of volunteering, including starting one of their own called Future Philanthropists. Read more about these two truly amazing and inspiring programs.
Love + Water- What was your inspiration to start Volunteer Family?
Heather Jack- I founded the organization in 2003, right after my daughter was born. I used to do corporate work when I first got married, and my husband started his own law firm, so both of us were working more than we ever had. When my daughter came along I decided to quit my job and wanted to get back into volunteering, which I had always done growing up. I started looking for places where I could volunteer with my daughter, and surprisingly found it really difficult to find programs that allowed us to volunteer together. The more I started talking to other parents the more I realized that most parents want their kids to be involved in charity work, especially during their high school years, but generally don’t know where to begin. Initially I created a small database of places where families could volunteer together in the Boston area, and from there I was able to raise enough funding to hire AmeriCorps members to help make Volunteer Family a national organization. Through the software they implemented we were able to cover 40 states, which was a huge step. Now families can log on from almost anywhere in the U.S. and find volunteer opportunities in their area.
L+W- Where does most of your funding come from for Volunteer Family?
HJ- Our main sponsor is Bright Horizons Children’s Care Centers. We’ve partnered on many programs with them and they help support Volunteer Family. The main program we have helped them with is developing ways to help kids under five years old learn to give back to their communities by having them work on arts and crafts projects to give to those in need. We have a great relationship with them.
L+W- How has social media been helpful to Volunteer Family?
HJ- I’ve been recently working on implementing social media into our site, which is being redesigned at the moment, because I would like to give the families who utilize our service ways to report back about their experiences and to share them with others through our site. I think it’s a great way to share not only their experiences but also information about the kinds of work they’ve done in order to inspire others who are interested in doing the same.
L+W- You also have another organization for young people under the umbrella of Volunteer Family.
HJ- Yes, we have another organization that we just started in 2009 called Future Philanthropists. We’ve partnered with some groups who have funded us to give $10,000.00 to a number of high school groups as part of an after school program that is designed to teach about various non-profits operating near them and how they can get involved. The kids learn how the non-profits work and then go out and interview them about what they need the most funding for at the moment. Then they discuss which groups could most benefit from their support and allocate the funds to the charities of their choice. The overall vision is to get kids to give back.
L+W- That sounds like an incredibly empowering program for kids.
HJ- This year we worked with eight groups and gave away over $100,000.00. It has been amazing because we can literally see the results, both for the organizations and with the kids’ experiences with it.
L+W- How do you choose the high schools you work with?
HJ- We try to work with schools in underprivileged areas in order to give them the opportunity to give back to their communities and also see future possibilities for themselves. By having them research non-profits in their areas they are able to expand their horizons and envision possibilities for themselves. They are able to see that they might be able to work for an organization like The Boys and Girls Club, or start a non-profit of their own, or choose a career path focused on their personal interests.
L+W- Who works with the kids in each group throughout the program?
HJ- I give the teachers the curriculum for the program, which lasts 13 weeks, and once they learn it I leave it in their hands and come back at the end of the program to see what they’ve done. I’m consistently blown away by how inventive and effective the teachers have been with the groups, and how much they are able to accomplish with the money and the amount of time they have to complete their projects.
L+W- What is the most moving moment you’ve had with Volunteer Family and Future Philanthropists?
HJ- Future Philanthropists did a program at Cathedral High School in Boston recently. When the kids were researching non-profits in their area they discovered a shelter for battered women across the street that they hadn’t known about before. They visited the shelter, and found that it had beds for the women, but nothing else. They decided they wanted to fund a kitchen for them, which they were able to do with a portion of the $10,000.00 they had. But in addition to that, they went home and told their parents they needed canned food for the kitchen and any other utensils they could spare so they could stock it. That was really moving to me, the fact that they really went the extra mile because they wanted to. It showed me that the program is inspiring them in the right way- that they are able to take action on their own. It’s really wonderful.
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