How to Start Volunteering as a Teen
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?
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.
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!
© 2012 Kathy Sima