College Kids & Giving Back

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This generation of college kids and 20somethings has grown up with the notion of giving back. Many had community service requirements in high school, and others continue that philanthropic notion well into adulthood. They may do community service or charitable work on holiday or during a Gap Year, or embark on an alternative spring break. But the holidays are also prime time for families with college kids and 20somethings to launch new charitable traditions of their own.

The Santa lists have disappeared. Gift opening is less of a marathon, and the focus has shifted to family and friends. Here are four ways to pursue charitable options during the holidays, and give back as a family.
  • Family Gifts: Between their reading, their classes and the guest speakers who come on campus, virtually every college kid develops a passionate interest in something outside himself. For some, it's an environmental cause. For others, it might be schools for girls in Pakistan or other countries. Ask your teen or 20something to choose a cause and together, make a donation on your family's behalf, in lieu of yet another video game.
  • Volunteer Time: Soup kitchens and other charitable organizations are inundated with do-gooders around the holidays. But college winter breaks can last well into January, after the warm-hearted rush subsides. Pick a day in January, gather your college kid and a few friends, and go sort cans at the food bank, serve soup at a shelter or volunteer for another worthy local cause.

  • Clean Closets: One of the most challenging aspects of winter break are those January doldrums. This is a perfect time to clear closets with your child. Donate those SAT study books to a local high school. Take old prom dresses to the dry cleaners, then donate them to the Princess Project or a similar group. Give books to the library. Take art supplies to a reuse-and-recycle depot.
  • Voluntour: If holiday travel is in your plans, consider a voluntourism opportunity that allows you to sightsee and relax, but also gives you a chance to help Habitat for Humanity or another worthy cause far from home. Discuss alternative spring breaks with your college kid too.

Looking for more holiday tips? Read more from's parenting guides on ways to give back for kids of any age, plus other topics, including a Family Holiday Survival Guide.
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