JAN 2014 | BY JAIME BAUM
Amy Kaplan wanted something different for her family’s most recent vacation.
The Riverwoods resident, her husband and three daughters had helped out at local soup kitchens during prior holidays, but for their winter break she sought a service trip that was culturally and physically immersive. “I wanted my girls (ages 13, 11 and 7) to understand that one person can make a difference,” Kaplan says.
The Kaplans and family friends journeyed to Costa Rica, where they worked with a local contractor to repair the home of a family in need.
“It was beyond a great experience,” Kaplan says.
Voluntourism, combining sightseeing with humanitarian volunteering, is gaining traction as an ideal way to expose kids to new sights, cultures and ways of life. In the past 20 years, the industry has seen an explosion in tour operators and options for families and groups. Glencoe native Jim Stein, who coordinated the Kaplan family trip and operates Chicago-based The Road Less Traveled, reports a significant uptick in interest.
Near or far, there are adventures to be had. If a do-good/feel-good vacation is for your family, consider these options:
Sweet Home, Chicago
Why not keep it local? Chicago attracts 45 million tourists annually, but there’s plenty more to our fair city than the “Bean” or Navy Pier. If a hotel stay isn’t in the cards, vacation rentals are available; check out FlipKey for homes away from home.
No matter where you sleep, Chicago Cares can keep you busy during the day. With more than 250 monthly projects ranging from gardening to knitting sleeping mats, kids age 8+ can participate, according to spokesperson Meg Washburn.
Stay in the U.S.A.
Habitat for Humanity is renowned for its volunteer building programs. Rose Morgan, international volunteer programs associate director, notes that the “Global Village” program is ideal for families with older teens. Intergenerational projects are available, too. Global Village offers building opportunities in Alaska, Hawaii and South Carolina, among other locales. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Families with school-age kids can look into contacting the Global Citizens Network, a nonprofit that will work with you to coordinate a trip. With more than 20 years’ experience, GCN plans trips in the U.S. and abroad.
The Road Less Traveled also plans family trips in the U.S. The company recently organized a custom trip for three families to New Orleans and routinely sends volunteers to a wolf refuge in Colorado.
Beyond our borders are an abundance of alternatives. Globe Aware works with families young and old to execute the ideal international adventure.
“Our families assemble wheelchairs for landmine victims in Cambodia, build adobe stoves in Peru, work with kids in schools in Ghana and Vietnam—there are many, many projects," says Kimberly Haley-Coleman, Globe Aware founder and executive director. "Younger kids help their parents teach English by practicing colloquialisms and pronunciation through songs and games such as Hangman."
Those Magic Moments
For the Kaplans, their Costa Rica trip remains an unforgettable one. “I wanted my kids to gain a broader perspective of the world. Our trip showed them how gratifying it is to give.”
Globe Aware’s Haley-Coleman sums up the richness of a family volunteer trip: “It’s an incredible gift to experience serving in an environment where everyone can share and learn, explore and experience together. Rather than being about consumption, it’s in the act of doing, sharing, and learning that a unique, life-changing memory and experience emerges.”