Kathy is a Canadian freelance writer and blogger who is the mom of teenage twins.
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
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
- public relations
- customer service
- time management
- project management
- 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.
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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.
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.
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
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 www.volunteermatch.org .
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!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Kathy Sima
Makayla Smith on February 26, 2020:
Hi,I’m Makayla willing to work or volunteer anytime after 245 . I’m 14 years old and feel like this is a great opportunity for me I’m helpful person I love helping homeless just looking to help anyone indeed out .
Sv on February 03, 2019:
I’m 14 and I’m homeschooled. So since I’m homeschooled I just thought that this is a great opportunity for me to volunteer and help out other people. I want to help the homeless and like food banks but I just don’t know where I should go or look up. I need help
e on January 22, 2019:
i need help! i am fourteen and i want to volunteer with the area of helping people
ally rose on September 15, 2018:
what can I do? I am 13 I will be 14 in December.
Zoey Sellers on August 12, 2018:
I would love to do all of that stuff!!!! I have to get approval from parents before I do though. I’m not very experienced but I will train and try my best to help however I can as soon as I’m able to help
Ayla Johnson on June 20, 2018:
Volunteering might not very big, a helping hand for any small issue can make a big difference.
Onata app provides services to everyone who are willing to volunteer in their neighbourhood, a small thought of you can make a big difference for others.
sawyer on March 21, 2018:
ever since i was five i've been in a foster family and they have two other kids and they chose me and i'm happy so every time i see a kid in an orphanage or something like that i cry it makes me said because i could have been them and the two kids my parents have i am the most mature and there a lot older and i love to see people in a bad mood and i want to help every person animal everything but theirs no way i could possibly do that but its not impossible nothing is impossible so i try to do what i can so if you see someone hurt in trouble sad or anything reach out and help them and help me be the best person everyone can be but that's not everyone because you have to choose who you want to be if i ruled the world nothing would be like it is today help out with anything you can get those fingers on please i am bagging you guys to be a better person respect everyone
Makayla Glover on March 14, 2018:
I'm 15 years old and willing to work. I like seeing other people happy and enjoying life. I basically raised 4 kids on my own and just recently I worked as an actor at Rich's Fright Farm. At first I didn't think it was gonna be worth it, but in the end not only did I have fun but I learned that just by helping someone with the smallest thing could change the face of my generation today.
Kathy Sima (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 21, 2012:
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. :)
Kathy Sima (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 21, 2012:
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.
Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 20, 2012:
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.
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 20, 2012:
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!
Kathy Sima (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 18, 2012:
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.
Kathy Sima (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 18, 2012:
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 from Oregon on September 18, 2012:
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 on September 18, 2012:
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.