By Michelle Talsma Everson

Giving to others and the community is a lesson we all want to teach our children—not only during the holidays, but also year-round. How do we go about fostering a tradition of giving back? One way is to encourage kids to get involved in the local community. To help, we’ve compiled a list of some Valley nonprofits that welcome pint-sized volunteers.

Arizona Family’s Christmas Angel Program

Hosted by the Salvation Army and 3TV, this annual program is the perfect way to involve the whole family—including kids who might still be too small to officially volunteer somewhere. Simply visit a local mall or shopping location, pick a tag off of a tree with the name, age and gift request of a local child or teen, purchase the gift, and return it with the tag. If you’re on a time crunch, you and your children can even shop online.

Arizona Humane Society (AHS)

For kids ages 8-11, they can sign up to read to shelter dogs once a month in the Reading Fur Fun program. Kids ages 9-15 can sign up to be AHS’ Humane Heroes, where they volunteer with a variety of shelter activities a couple of times a month. And, for youth ages 14-17, AHS’ Humane Teens program include in-depth training in animal handling skills and behavior, helping to lead youth education programs and presentations, and assisting with the daily care of AHS pets and animal teachers, according to AHS.

St. Mary’s Food Bank

Ideal for older kids, youth ages 12 and up can volunteer at St. Mary’s Food Bank. Activities include packing emergency food boxes, on-site food distribution, and work in the Kids Cafe. Kids who are under 16 need to have a guardian with them to volunteer. Youth groups can also work together to host a food collection drive.

Ryan House

Ryan House helps families as they navigate life-limiting or end-of-life journeys. Their youth volunteer program, Kids For Ryan House, welcomes kids who can help with donation drives, volunteer at Ryan House events and other activities. This holiday season, Ryan House is hosting a toy drive and is home to an adopt-a-family program.

Interested families can e-mail or call 602.234.6707.

Arizona Helping Hands

Arizona Helping Hands welcomes community volunteers in many capacities to assist the nonprofit’s work in providing basic needs to boys and girls in foster care. A family toy drive is set for 9:30 to 11 a.m., Dec. 3 at AZ Helping Hands’ warehouse in Scottsdale.  Families are invited to bring new toys, crafts, games, books, sports balls etc. (minimum 1 item per person). Participants will get a brief tour, kids will receive a holiday treat and then they can stay to help sort the toys for distribution to families throughout Arizona.

Arizona Animal Welfare League

At Arizona Animal Welfare League (AAWL), kids ages 9-17 can participate in Junior Volunteer Days every month. “Typical activities include: cleaning cat condos and dog kennels, making enrichment activities for exotic animals, sorting and folding laundry, socializing the animals at our shelter, and more,” according to AAWL. “Additionally, students are instructed on proper daily care of a variety of animals.” There are also Family Volunteer Days available as well.

Feed My Starving Children

This holiday season, Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a nonprofit that tackles world hunger by sending volunteer-packed, nutritious meals to 70 countries, invites families to start or continue a holiday tradition of service by volunteering at the Hope Filled Holiday event December 1-3 at the Phoenix Convention Center. This MobilePack event will give individuals and families the opportunity to join more than 13,000 volunteers to pack 2 million meals over the course of the three days. Each two-hour volunteer shift includes an orientation, time spent packing meals in an assembly-line fashion and the opportunity to learn more about hunger in our world. FMSC volunteers can be as young as 5 and, if you can’t make this event, volunteer opportunities are available year-round.

Southwest Human Development

Southwest Human Development gives families the chance to give back to other local kids and families. “We provide volunteers with a wide variety of opportunities to give back to Arizona’s young children and their families,” according to the organization. “Whether you’re interested in helping at our special events, working in our book warehouse or helping in our offices, we’ve got the right opportunity for you! We also have many customizable group volunteering opportunities.”

Ava’s Angels

Ava’s Angels are children and teens in the community who wish to take a stand against pediatric cancer and make a difference. Volunteer, fundraise, host an event; whatever you choose to do in order to benefit Arizona Cancer Foundation for Children families makes you an Ava’s Angel, according to the nonprofit.

Lost Our Home Pet Rescue

Accompanied by a parent or guardian, kids can play, feed, walk and help the dogs and cats at the no kill shelter in Tempe. In the Animal Book Club, children of all ages can read to the pets. Reading to the pets helps to socialize them and make them more adoptable. The pets love the attention and it’s a great way for new readers to practice since the dogs and cats won’t judge their reading level. It also helps children become more comfortable with pets and they can earn prizes and incentives.

Michelle Talsma Everson is a freelance writer, editor and PR consultant. You can see her latest work at This holiday season, she plans to participate in the Christmas Angel Program and support Duet: Partners In Health & Aging.