David Offutt of Bridgewater grew up in Brockton “without a present dad,” he says, but he found father figures in the YMCA, where he volunteers with his own children now.
Father and daughter Ben and Clara Szalewicz of Marblehead put in time together at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, where their volunteer work includes feeding the animals and cleaning up after them.
Stephen McGonagle of Bolton volunteers with his son, Matthew, at an animal shelter in Sudbury. He says their efforts there have helped bring his son, who struggles with anxiety and depression, out of his shell.
Fathers getting gifts on Father’s Day is the norm. But fathers doing the giving — in the form of imparting solid values by example — is what Offutt, Szalewicz, and McGonagle, among others, try to do by volunteering with their offspring.
“The YMCA was extremely instrumental in me finding direction in life as a young man, then husband and father,” said Offutt, 52, a real estate broker who volunteers with his sons at the Old Colony YMCA, where he also serves on the board of directors.
“It was critically important to get my kids involved,” he said.
Offutt and his wife, Detra, also a volunteer at the Y, have four sons ages 17 to 36, and much of their volunteerism has happened at the Y’s Camp Yomechas in Middleborough, working as lifeguards and counselors.
“It’s a chance to be a positive role model,” said son Daniel, 21, a criminal justice major at Bridgewater State University. “Dad put the idea of volunteering into our heads, and it’s been great to give back. To influence someone in a positive way is a good feeling.”
His younger brother, Devante, 17, a senior at Brockton High School, where his big brother DeShawn, 36, is the wrestling coach, agrees.
“To help someone out is always rewarding, and to see our dad volunteer made it easy to do,” he said. “He had an impact on us.”
Offutt said he’s especially pleased to volunteer with his children at the Y.
“I found my footing at the Y,” he said. “I’d sit with men of all backgrounds and listen to what it means to be a man of integrity, a good husband, a good father, and to give back.”
Ben Szalewicz, 44, and daughter Clara, 14, do their volunteer work at Appleton Farms, a holding of the Trustees of Reservations, because they want to help and, he said, because “Clara was one of our four kids who really loves animals.”
Volunteering at the farm means starting on Sundays at 6 a.m., feeding and watering the animals, tidying up, and doing anything that needs doing — including, Szalewicz said with a sigh, “cleaning up manure.”
They do it to give back, he said, but also to satisfy their curiosity.
“It’s our way of trying out things we aren’t used to,” said Szalewicz, who oversees facilities and planning at Salem State University. “It’s a way to explore our interests and help others.”
It has also allowed his daughter to reconnect with animals. The family moved to Marblehead two years ago from the Berkshires, where they had room for chickens. Lacking that option in their new hometown, he said, gives them another reason to volunteer at Appleton.
“It’s a working farm, not just a display for tourists,” he said. “It feels like it has a purpose.”
Clara, an eighth-grader at Marblehead Veterans Middle School, said she likes working on the farm because she misses having animals, and she gets dad to herself.
“Being one of four children, going to Appleton is a nice break and a really good way to spend one-on-one time with my dad doing something we both love,” she said. “I hear many stories about his childhood that I had never heard before.”
Szalewicz, whose volunteer efforts included working with the Hancock Shaker Village and Habitat for Humanity, said he and Clara love their time together, even though “getting up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday is hard. Clara just loves it so much.”
And he is proud to see the volunteer spirit in his children.
“My other daughter, Emma, does work at the local food pantry, for example, and what sparked that was an eighth-grade program, Project 351,” he said of the Boston-based youth program that teaches leadership skills. “She did that in the eighth grade and now comes back every year to help.”
The same spirit also runs deep in the McGonagle clan, said Stephen, 58, owner of an e-commerce business and a former technical director of the Framingham High School drama company. McGonagle and his 18-year-old son, Matthew, volunteer at the Buddy Dog Humane Society in Sudbury, and when she was younger, daughter Sarah, now a 22-year-old fashion photographer, started volunteering in the third grade, doing can drives.
“Matt has always loved animals — we have a dog and two cats ourselves,” McGonagle said. “It was his idea to do volunteer work, and we inquired at Buddy Dogs when he was 14, got put on a waiting list, and have been doing it for just over two years now.”
He said they and the other volunteers don’t mind putting in the hours, in all kinds of weather. “We go all year long, and I do the dogs, walking them outside no matter what it’s doing.”
With his set-designing skills, McGonagle is also called on to fix things at the shelter, where his son is usually found working with felines.
“Matt’s the king of the cat room,” he said proudly. “He loves being with cats.”
The son, a student at Beacon High School in Watertown, said he’s “actually more of a dog person.” He said he chooses the cat room because “it’s a lot quieter in there. Also, with dogs, you go and walk them and don’t tend to introduce people to them as you do with cats.”
He said volunteering at the shelter is a great way to spend time with his father, as well as a way to deal with his struggles.
“For a long time, I was going through heavy depression and anxiety, and my parents and I thought this would help,” he said. “It’s been fantastic. . . . It’s like a second home to me.”
He said his favorite part is “talking to people, trying to get them matched with the right cat, getting to know them, hear about the cats they’ve had and which cat at the shelter might be best for them.”
And volunteering with his dad, he said, “has definitely been fun.”Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.