24 Fun Family-Friendly Volunteer Opportunities in Hawai‘i

The holiday season is a great time to teach kids the joy of giving, not just with presents under a tree, but through actions all year-round.


From left: Olivia Rose, Aiden, Mahina and Princeton pick up beach litter with gear from 808 Cleanups. Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Donation drives and Toys for Tots are natural ways for keiki to learn how to help others in need. But nothing is more fun and satisfying for children than working with their own hands in their own neighborhoods. An easy way to get started is to sign up for one of six kid-focused workdays at our fifth HONOLULU Family Volunteer Day. Or, take a look at our roundup of opportunities for your entire family. Please note, every nonprofit requires that kids work alongside a parent or adult guardian. And many of the outdoor activities require signed waivers.

SEE ALSO: 📗 Good Reads: Books That Inspire Kids to be Helpful and Kind

808 Cleanups

Age: All ages.

Frequency: 808 Cleanups has volunteer opportunities multiple times a week, all year round. The nonprofit provides kid-size gloves, buckets and grabbers to help even the smallest volunteers clean up beaches, parks and trails. If the organized events don’t fit into your schedule, adopt a site to clean up as a family on your own time.


Other beach cleanups:

Surfrider O‘ahu, oahu.surfrider.org

• Sustainable Coastlines, sustainablecoastlineshawaii.org

• Waikīkī Aquarium, waikikiaquarium.org


The Hawai‘i Conservation Alliance website conservationconnections.org lists volunteer opportunities that protect our island environment.

Hawai‘i Foodbank

Photo: Courtesy of Hawai‘i Foodbank

Age: 8 to 15 with an adult. Independent work for 16 years and older.

Frequency: Hawai‘i Foodbank feeds more than 287,000 people around the state. Keiki volunteers can help sort donations, check labels and inspect fruit and vegetables as a way to learn about families in need. Commitments range from single, four-hour shifts to weekly work for a month.



Mālama Na Honu

Photo: Courtesy of Mālama Na Honu

Age: Keiki of all ages.

Frequency: Two shifts per month.

Animal lovers have the chance to be “honu guardians” for the sea turtles that bask at Laniākea Beach. Volunteers are required to attend an orientation and shadow experienced volunteers, before they commit to three-hour shifts to educate beachgoers and keep them away from the threatened honu.



Mālama Maunalua

Photo: Kelli Bullock

Age: 5 years and older. Younger kids can help if accompanied by adults.

Frequency: Three-hour cleanups are monthly, depending on the tides.

Want to pull invasive algae out of the water of Maunalua Bay? Keiki at our Volunteer Day have loved seeing how much they can remove, while chasing crabs, spotting fish and playing in the sand. Mālama Maunalua provides tabis and gloves. You also can adopt a 10-by-10-meter plot to manage year-round.



Ka Papa Lo‘i O Kānewai

Age: All ages.

Frequency: First Saturday of the month.

After a brief introduction to the history of the area, you’ll take a quick walk to see the water running through kānewai, then return to tend the lo‘i just in front of UH’s School of Hawaiian Knowledge. The shallow taro patch, close proximity to bathrooms and relaxed atmosphere make this lo‘i especially kid-friendly. UH also has work days at its lo‘i in Punalu‘u.



Ho‘oulu ‘Āina

Photo: Karen DB Photography

Age: All ages.

Frequency: Third Saturday of the month.

Weeding, planting, harvesting and watering this expansive garden in the back of Kalihi Valley is just part of the day. We love the variety of tasks and plants; the healthy potluck lunch, featuring many items plucked from the garden; and all the room for antsy kids to run. RSVP is required.


Parents Inc.

Age: Keiki of all ages.

Frequency: Year-round. Seasonal.

Parents Inc. is an acronym for providing, awareness, referrals, education, nurturing and therapy support. The group’s goal is to strengthen families through resources, education and advocacy. Volunteers of all ages are needed to help at an upcoming holiday party for families who live in poverty. At the party, keiki and their family members can help make ornaments at arts-and-crafts stations, and adults can help deliver Christmas trees to families’ homes. Year-round, the nonprofit group needs volunteers to adopt families in need.



Waimea Valley

Photo: Karen DB Photography

Age: 3 years and older.

Frequency: Various times throughout the year.

Help fight back weeds that overrun the botanical gardens that hold more than 5,000 plants from around the world. Wear sunscreen and insect repellent. Bring gardening gloves and a swimsuit. After the work is done, the kids can splash in the lifeguard-attended waterfall at the top of the trail.



Children’s Discovery Forest at Honolulu Zoo

Photo: David Croxford

Age: All ages.

Frequency: Monthly work days.

Plant seedlings, pull weeds, learn to cultivate native Hawaiian plants and develop respect for the ‘āina. During our Volunteer Days, kids harvested sweet potatoes and learned about other plants from the friendly volunteers. Please note that in the past, volunteer work did not come with free admission to the zoo.



Lanakila Meals on Wheels

Age: Kids of all ages, accompanied by a responsible adult with a driver’s license and vehicle.

Frequency: Anytime. Year-round.

Lanakila Meals on Wheels is a good way for kids to make a personal connection with those they help. Families deliver meals to people with disabilities and kūpuna who are homebound, recovering from illnesses or need help. You can commit to weekly, monthly or seasonal runs, or substitute for regular volunteers.



Lunalilo Home

Age: Keiki of all ages.

Frequency: Anytime. Year-round.

Just playing games or chatting with the kūpuna at Lunalilo Home residential and day care community can make a big difference in their lives. After an orientation, volunteers decide when to come and what to do, whether it is playing the piano, working in the garden or helping with chores around the Hawai‘i Kai home.



Ulupō Heiau and Lo‘i

Photo: Aaron K. Yoshino

Age: Keiki of all ages. Those younger than 5 will not be allowed in the lo‘i.

Frequency: Second Saturday of the month.

Tucked away behind the Windward YMCA, the Ulupō Heiau is the largest heiau of its kind on O‘ahu. Kids usually work outside the lo‘i, which can be deep. But getting dirty can be fun—and keiki (and adults, too) can clean up afterward in the nearby bathrooms.



Hawaiian Humane Society

Age: 8 years and older. Teens 15 and older can work without a parent.

Frequency: Year-round.

As we wrote this in October, the shelter was not accepting any more volunteers. When opportunities do open, parent-and-child teams can train together, then work three-hour shifts together for a minimum of three months. Meantime, families can foster animals in their homes. Youths also can volunteer with the Teens4Animal Council, or they can participate in Service Learning Projects led by society employees.



SEE ALSO: 🐾 Where to Adopt a Pet in Honolulu

Want to Grow Your Family?

Animal-welfare groups on O‘ahu constantly need people to adopt or foster pets until they are placed in forever homes.

Consider these nonprofit groups: 

• O‘ahu SPCA, oahuspca.org

• Fur-Angel Foundation, furangelfoundation.org

• Ka‘a‘awa K9 Rescue, kk9r.org

• PAWS of Hawai‘i, pawsofhawaii.org

• Hawai‘i Dog Foundation, hawaiidogfoundation.org

• Hawai‘i Cat Foundation, hicat.org

• Dog People of O‘ahu, dogpeopleofoahu.com

• Hawai‘i Happy Cats, hawaiihappycats.com

Spread Aloha Every Day

Volunteering doesn’t have to involve organized activities with Instagrammable moments. Keiki watch and learn from adults who perform small, daily acts of service and kindness. Some ideas:

Make extra portions of dinner and deliver to kūpuna or a new nursing mother.

Wave the shaka when other drivers let your car into their lane or stop for you at a pedestrian crosswalk.

Before tossing trash, recycle and reuse as much as possible.

Greet neighbors, store cashiers and others you see regularly.

Hold open doors and elevators for other people.

Pay for another student’s lunch or the meal tab of the folks behind you in a drive-thru restaurant.

Add coins to a random person’s parking meter that’s about to expire.


How To Raise Keiki Who Care

Kindness starts at home.

Shower your children with unconditional love every day—especially when they’re hurt or sick. Build their vocabulary so they’re able to describe a wide range of emotions (frustration, gratefulness, empathy, etc.). Point out people with good behavior at school, on TV shows, in your neighborhood and on playdates. The point is not to compare your kids to others, but to develop their socio-emotional skills.


Praise your children when you catch them being helpful.

Be specific about their efforts, not their character. Instead of saying, “You were nice to that doggy” to a preschooler, instead say, “I like how you carefully carried the water bowl to the thirsty puppy and spoke to him in a gentle voice.” Older children know when adults aren’t sincere in their comments. An example of heartfelt praise for tweens and teens: “That elderly woman on the bus seemed exhausted after walking in the heat. I know you were tired, too. But did you see how grateful she was when you gave your seat to her?”


Choose charities that your family wants to support.

Together, learn about a nonprofit’s mission and Google pictures of its beneficiaries and volunteers. Make it a family tradition to volunteer or donate money to the charities. Let your children see you write a check, give cash or reconcile your statements.


Share the wealth with others.

Encourage children to give a fraction of their allowance to their favorite causes—either monthly or compounded at the end of each year. Keiki also can donate some of the money they receive on special occasions, such as birthdays and Lunar New Year. Turn these charitable moments into quick math lessons about fractions and percentages.


Read about heroes who give back to their communities.

Malala Yousafzai and Martin Luther King Jr. are a couple of examples. To preview a book before introducing it to your kids, visit goodreads.com and type in the title. You also can search commonsensemedia.org for helpful reviews of family-friendly movies and shows.


Sources: Child Mind Institute, The Incredible Years and Choose Love Movement 

Looking for more service ideas? HONOLULU Magazine’s guide to giving back will be on newsstands in January 2020!