Old tractor tires and soda bottles weren't the only items stuck in the mud along the banks of the Little Sioux River in Iowa. As Dillon Hicks, 11, stepped from the canoe he shared with his grandfather, Doug, he sunk into the soft muck at water's edge, lost his balance, and tumbled into the river. After thrashing about for a moment, the life-jacket-clad boy managed to climb up the muddy bank and yell to his grandfather, "That must have been 20 feet deep!"
Wading in ankle-deep mud and getting soaked in chilly water were two hazards that Doug and his wife, Denice, and their grandchildren Dillon and Brianne, 13, faced during their week of canoeing and camping. But the trip was more than just family fun -- the Hicks were cleaning up trash along one of Iowa's waterways through an annual volunteer program, Project AWARE (A Watershed Awareness River Expedition), hosted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The idea of using a vacation to do good is appealing to many families, yet volunteer travel isn't simply an alternative to typical vacations -- it's an opportunity to immerse your family in a new culture or part of the country while helping others. Although international volunteer vacations often draw families to exotic locales, opportunities may exist in your own backyard. Whether you volunteer within your state or region for a weekend, or travel to a part of the country you've never visited before, your family is bound to come away with a sense of accomplishment -- and wonderful memories.
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