There’s no doubt doing something for someone else can make you feel good. But there are other benefits to volunteering as well, such as learning new skills, connecting with people you might not have otherwise gotten to know and showing responsibility by committing to a helping opportunity.
Other benefits aren’t exactly selfless – such as earning credit or boosting a resume – but they can make the idea of volunteering more appealing for some teens.
As middle and high schools increasingly make community service a part of students’ educational experience, parents can encourage a volunteer spirit from home. Volunteer organizations say teens are most often attracted to something that interests them. Does a teen like animals? Check with the local pet shelter. Enjoy kids? Offer to babysit free of charge for a family that is struggling financially. Love social media? Teach seniors how to stay in touch with grandchildren via email or Facebook.
With so many opportunities available locally and online, it’s fairly easy to find a way to make a difference.
DoSomething.org creates volunteer opportunities for young people 25 and under; once you hit 26, you’re considered “old people” (sigh). It touts itself as a group that “makes the world suck less.” And as one of the largest organizations out there for young people interested in fostering social change (it has 2.5 million members), DoSomething.org tackles issues ranging from poverty to violence, the environment to … well, as DoSomething says, “literally everything else.”
According to the website, “DoSomething.org campaigns are fun and creative ways to serve your community in a way that doesn’t require an old person, a car, or money.” Teens can explore volunteer opportunities and sign up online.
DoSomething.org also awards scholarships, so doing something good can also pay forward to your future.
The National Council on Crime Prevention also created a helpful publication for potential teen volunteers. The 12-page publication, entitled “Volunteering: Do What You Like To Do,” outlines reasons to volunteer, ideas and ways to get started.
“The good news is that making a difference in the lives of others can become a part of your everyday life with very little effort–and you can do it by doing what you like to do,” writes the Council.
Some other ideas on the local front:
From offering to walk a neighbor’s dog to helping out at a local animal shelter, there are plenty of opportunities for pet lovers. Local animal shelters are frequently in need of volunteers for basic tasks such as cleaning cages or answering phones. Some shelters have age restrictions on volunteers, but younger teens could organize a pet supply drive. Contact the volunteer coordinator at a local shelter to find out what help is needed.
DoSomething.org currently has a “Puppy PR” campaign underway, in which volunteers take photos of shelter pets. Pictures can increase a pet’s chances of being adopted.
There are simple ways to make an impact on the environment. Volunteer at a local cleanup day or encourage friends to put computers into sleep mode before going to bed to save energy. Contact your local municipality to find out areas in your community that need cleaning up. Offer to gather a few friends to help tidy up a local park or playground.
Support local athletes in Special Olympics, which needs volunteers at various times during the year. Contact the local Special Olympics office (New York’s office is based in Schenectady.)
Senior centers as well as private nursing homes often welcome volunteers. Contact the recreation director to find out if he/she needs help with planned activities. Teens can also offer to help seniors learn to use a computer or how to communicate via social media to stay in touch with their grandchildren. Even a little time spent with a senior – particularly one who lives alone – can make a world of difference for both the senior and the teen.
There are many organizations that prepare and organize care packages for soldiers stationed abroad. Teens can organize a donation drive to collect some of the most needed items. Check out Military.com. You can also send a letter to an active serviceman or woman. For tips to get you started, see A Million Thanks. During the holidays, some organizations seek volunteers to help wrap gifts to ship to servicewomen and men.