How to Start Volunteering as a Teen

Updated on January 16, 2018
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Kathy is a Canadian freelance writer and blogger who is the mom of teenage twins.

Teens can gain valuable experience and learn new skills through volunteering.
Teens can gain valuable experience and learn new skills through volunteering. | Source

People volunteer for many different reasons and teenagers are no exception. For many teens, seeking volunteer opportunities is somewhat of a forced choice, as many high schools now require students to complete a certain number of community service hours before they can graduate. Teens need to find suitable volunteer opportunities to meet these requirements and are often unsure what options are available to them.

Whether the purpose is to fulfill a community service requirement for school, to support a cause they believe in, or to explore their interests and gain valuable experience, there are many benefits, as well as some unique challenges with volunteering.

The Benefits of Volunteering

There are many reasons why it is a good idea for teens to seek out volunteer opportunities. The benefits include:

  • Learn new skills
  • Explore their interests
  • Gain experience to add to job resumes and college applications
  • Meet new people
  • Widen their understanding of social issues and their community
  • Help others
  • Improve self esteem and self confidence
  • Develop empathy for others
  • Increase opportunities for paid employment
  • Gain personal satisfaction from making a difference

At what age do you think people should start volunteering?

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Skill Development

Many of the skills that teens develop through participating in volunteer roles will serve them well in the future. In addition to any specialized skills or knowledge that may be gained, many of their experiences will lead to the development of such transferable skills as:

  • computer skills
  • marketing
  • public relations
  • customer service
  • time management
  • project management
  • leadership
  • organization
  • interpersonal communication
  • conflict management

Brainstorming the Volunteer Options

To help determine what types of volunteer opportunities might be most appropriate for teens, I recommend they sit down and make a list. The ideal position will be one that suits their personality, skills and interests.

On their list, teens should write down their current hobbies and interests, what skills they already have, what they are interested in learning more about, any social issues or causes they are passionate about, and how much time they are willing to commit to a volunteer position.

To help narrow down their options, they can consider if they would prefer to be outdoors or inside, if they would like to work directly with the public or more behind the scenes, and if they would like a variety of experiences or would prefer to focus on a specific area or task.

Challenges for Teens

Teens face some unique challenges as potential volunteers, and it is worth considering these to ensure a positive volunteer experience for all involved.

Transportation issues - How will they get there? Is public transportation available, if needed? If transportation is a concern, then perhaps they can arrange car pooling with a friend, find opportunities closer to home or seek volunteer work they can do from home.

Maturity level - Some volunteer roles involve more responsibility than others. It is important to consider a teen's maturity level when exploring possible volunteer work.

Safety - Some volunteer work is not suitable for teens, unless they are volunteering with an adult they know and trust, such as a parent. It is important that safety is taken into consideration for all teens, and that they don't put themselves in unnecessarily risky situations when volunteering.

Level of commitment - Teenagers need to be realistic with their expectations when considering different volunteer opportunitities. Often they can be very enthusiastic about volunteering, particularly if the activity or organization is something they are very passionate about. However, once that enthusiasm starts to wane, they might find it difficult to maintain their commitment. To avoid disappointing themselves and letting others down, it is usually a good idea to start off with a smaller time commitment for new volunteer opportunties, and then build on them as time goes on.

Personality - Some teens are very intimidated by the idea of doing volunteer work, particularly if they are shy by nature. If this is the case, encourage them to seek opportunities where they are most comfortable and are doing activities that draw on their strengths. They may want to consider volunteer opportunities where they can volunteer with a friend or family member, at least initially.

Lack of experience - Just as with paid employment, some organizations will be looking for certain types of experience for volunteer positions, which most teenagers will not have. However, most organizations and groups are willing to provide the necessary training for teens that demonstrate they are enthusiastic and motivated.

Teens that love animals may enjoy volunteering at an animal shelter.
Teens that love animals may enjoy volunteering at an animal shelter. | Source

Types of Volunteer Opportunities Available to Teens

When teenagers are looking for ways to volunteer in their community, some prefer to look for activities that are ongoing. These types of volunteer positions often involve some training. Teens willing to make a longer term commitment may volunteer to:

  • help care for animals at a local animal shelter
  • assist children with special needs participate in sports and recreation programs
  • read to children at the local library
  • visit seniors at a nursing home
  • help out at church Sunday School
  • support patients or volunteer in the gift shop at a local hospital
  • lead guided tours at a museum
  • maintain a non-profit's website or Facebook account

For teens that want to do some volunteer work, but aren't ready to make an ongoing commitment, there are many ways to get involved. Some ideas are:

  • organize a bake sale, car wash or other fundraiser to raise funds for a local non-profit group or charity
  • help with a kids activity or craft at a local community fair
  • collect pledges and participate in a charity walk or bike ride
  • help set up for a local community event or fundraiser
  • plant trees or participate in a community clean-up project
  • organize a food drive or sort food at a local food bank
  • stuff envelopes or put up posters
  • paint childrens' faces at a charity event
  • design a poster for a community or charity event
  • assist with registrations at a charity golf tournament or other event
  • help wrap raffle gift baskets for a fundraiser

Volunteering Ideas for a Family

Volunteering as a family is a wonderful way to spend quality time together, and can be a great introduction to volunteering for teens who may be apprehensive.

When I was involved with planning family events and fundraisers for a local autism charity, many families came out to volunteer together. Kids and parents often worked together to run various activities, sell raffle tickets or help serve food. My daughter often helped me prepare for fundraising events by stuffing gift bags or helping to wrap gift baskets.

Some other family volunteering opportunities include:

  • sorting food at a local food bank
  • serving meals at a homeless shelter
  • holding a yard sale or bake sale fundraiser
  • participating in a charity walk
  • working on a Habitat for Humanity building project

These type of volunteer experiences can help teens determine what types of volunteer work they enjoy the most, as well as help you bond with each other.

Families can volunteer together at a local food bank.
Families can volunteer together at a local food bank. | Source

Finding the Right Fit for Your Teen

If you're interested in:
Consider volunteering at:
animal shelter, zoo, Humane Society
a local arts festival, summer camp, museum
library, seniors centre
seniors home, camp, church, children's charity
Helping people
a hospital, a local charity, nursing home, service club, food bank
a local music festival, charity event, camp
tree planting event, local environmental organization
library, school, literacy program
summer camp, local sports leagues, charity walk or bike ride, Special Olympics

Where to Find Volunteer Opportunities for Teens in Your Area

There are many resources available to help you find appropriate teen volunteer opportunities in your area.

Many towns and cities have a community volunteer bureau where you can search for a wide range of one-time or ongoing volunteer positions.

Most charities, service clubs and organizations post information about their volunteer needs on their websites, or you can always call them to see if they are looking for volunteers. Most will be thrilled to find a suitable opportunity for motivated teens.

In the United States, you can also search for suitable volunteer opportunities on .

In Canada, volunteer centres and opportunities by province are listed on the Volunteer Canada website.

Volunteering is a wonderful way for teens to become more involved in their community, and gain valuable skills and experience for the future. Teens should be encouraged to explore different opportunities to help them find the best fit. The benefits will pay off for years to come!

© 2012 Kathy Sima


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    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you Bill! I agree, many students are just putting in their time during volunteer work and don't really get the benefits. That's one of the reasons why I think it's so important to help teens find a good fit. If their first few volunteer experiences are positive then I think they're much more likely to seek out ways to be involved as they become adults.

      Thanks for your compliments. You are too kind. :)

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks Mhatter99. Yes, volunteer work can definitely help teens stand out on college and scholarship applications. I know many employers who look favorably on it as well.

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 5 years ago from San Francisco

      Good report. The masonic youth is big on this. When I ised to help youth with their "college" papers (scholarships, applications and such) some volunteer work really helped.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      You don't have to sell me on any of this, Kathy! I am all for kids getting out and learning to help society at an early age. We need much more of this, but sadly I'm seeing much less of it. Oh sure, when I was teaching, we would always make sure the students did some volunteering, but I always suspected they would not do it if it weren't part of school.

      Great list of suggestions! I love your caring and giving attitude!

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thanks CZ! I love it when local businesses encourage kids to get involved and volunteer in their community. In our town the owner of the movie theatre started a program to get the local youth helping others out and doing volunteer work. The kids organize different projects and are rewarded with incentives like movie passes for their hard work. It's a win-win for the kids and the community.

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Wow, thank you very much for your lovely feedback miss_jkim. I'm so pleased that you found this information to be helpful and worth sharing.

    • CZCZCZ profile image

      CZCZCZ 5 years ago from Oregon

      Excellent hub. Enjoyed reading through this. I am a big believer in volunteering and getting kids to help others out. Sometimes a little incentive to get out helping others gets kids more involved. I remember as a kid we used to skateboard in the downtown area all the time and one of the local skate shops had a deal if you volunteered 4 times per month at one of the local soup kitchens they would give a gift certificate worth $25 at the shop. Was an awesome little incentive and it got a lot of 10 - 14 year olds giving back and learning about helping others.

      Lots of great information and helpful stuff in this article, voting it up!

    • miss_jkim profile image

      miss_jkim 5 years ago

      Outstanding article! As a member of a community service organization that sponsors teen groups with similar goals, this is a must read article for members and advisers alike. I will definitely pass this on to our coordinators.

      Thanks for sharing such rich information. Voted up, interesting, and helpful.