Bonding with your children through service

Volunteers making cupcakes with families at UCSF’s Family House. Photo: National Charity League

You don’t have to walk far these days in our city to see there are many people struggling with homelessness, mental illness, and addiction, and sometimes, all three. These problems can’t be left solely to politicians and nonprofits to solve. As residents, I feel it is up to all of us to chip in and do our part, and civic engagement and service are key values we can teach our children about how to make our city better. But how do we do this? Here are two organizations that provide opportunities to bond with your children in what can be difficult tween/teen years and provide them opportunities to give back to their community at the same time.


This is a national service organization with two chapters in San Francisco. There are nearly 500 active members who last year completed over 10,000 hours of service. The first chapter was founded in 2004, and the second chapter was just formed two years ago after strong demand for these types of opportunities. Each year both chapters have to turn away applicants, so with demand that high, perhaps another chapter will soon be added.

The group is for mothers and daughters in grades 7 to 12. Over these six years the goal is to build strong mother-daughter relationships with an emphasis on community service (there is a mandatory number of hours per year), developing leadership skills (everyone gets a job), and having some fun along the way. Leilani Latimer, the current president of the Golden Gate chapter says, “The NCL experience truly deepens the mother-daughter bond, and inspires a legacy of strong, service-minded, compassionate leaders.”

My daughter, Madison, and I recently joined NCL and have already enjoyed several service projects, including helping with a birthday party for residents at Raphael House, a family shelter, and playing cards and coloring at the Institute on Aging. Bridget Mills, a third-year member says, “Connecting with people during service work is what means the most to me. I’m grateful to NCL for giving me the opportunity to explore philanthropies that had not initially been on my radar.”

Other popular volunteer organizations are the Boys and Girls Club; Family House, which helps families whose children have cancer or other life-threatening illnesses at UCSF; and the Richmond District Neighborhood Center.


Service isn’t just for girls. A small group of moms in 2015 looking for a similar way to bond with their sons through community service started Service Corps. Similar to NCL, Service Corps is for mothers and sons in grades 7 to 12. In just three short years, the organization has grown to almost 250 members and supports over 30 local nonprofits. The service opportunities are carefully chosen and offer something for everyone’s interest, including support to the elderly, homeless and hungry, the environment, and animals. Some of their more popular partners are Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, Street Soccer, and The Presidio Trust.

Aimee West, one of the founders of Service Corps, says, “Learning and working alongside my son has been both incredibly rewarding and fun. I cherish the time we spend working together to make a difference in our community.”

Service Corps is open to all mothers and sons in the appropriate grades if you are a resident or have a son who attends school in San Francisco. There is a $125 membership fee and each mother-son must complete a minimum of 15 hours of service a year. Although the boys may not always admit it, spending some one-on-one time with mom is an added benefit. Peter Wolfe, a fourth-year member says, “A vast majority of my interactions with my mom are about homework, dinner, technology, or anything in between. Service Corps is an opportunity to break this cycle and bond with my mom while volunteering in the community.”

It is nice to know that on those days when the world feels full of doom and gloom, there are young people working to make a difference and make their city and world a little better. Imagine if everyone committed to giving back, what a cleaner, safer world we would all live in. It also turns out volunteering is good for our children’s mental health. A recent study in the Journal of Adolescence found that altruistic behaviors, including large and small acts of kindness, increase teens’ feelings of self-worth, especially when it comes to helping strangers or people they don’t know.

Sounds like a win-win to me.


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Liz Farrell is the mother of three young children and the founder of TechTalks, a consulting group to help schools and families have productive and healthy conversations around social media and technology. Formerly, she was a news producer at KTVU-TV in Oakland. Email: [email protected]