Teen Volunteerism: Benefits, Tips and Suggestions
April 21 – 27 is National Volunteer Week. It’s the perfect time to talk to your teen about volunteerism! To develop into healthy, responsible, productive adults, youth actually NEED the opportunity to make a difference. America’s Promise, the Alliance for Youth, lists the chance to help others – whether in their families, schools, communities, or the larger world – as one of the five resources every teen needs to succeed. When a youth can watch models of caring behavior, develop a sense of responsibility to society, become aware of the needs of others, and provide service that impacts another person’s life, they develop a sense of pride in themselves and their community.
Some adults erroneously think that teens are too self-absorbed to help others. In truth, teens dream bigger than adults do. They have larger visions for changing the world, perhaps because they are not callused by, or cynical of, the world. Youth are often eager to help, and teen volunteerism is on the rise. A recent report from Independent Sector showed that about 13 million teenagers, ages 12 to 17 (60 percent) volunteer an average of 3 1/2 hours per week. Some of this increase is due to the fact that more and more schools are including community service as part of their curriculum.
The Benefits of Teen Volunteerism
Encouraging teens to volunteer is one of the best pieces of advice an adult can offer. Research shows several benefits for teens who engage in community services.
Teens who volunteer:
- Perform better in school.
- Have higher self-esteem and more resiliency.
- Are 50 percent less likely to smoke, drink or do drugs.
- Look more attractive on college and scholarship applications.
- Improve their chances of graduating at the top of their class.
- Develop new talents and/or find new passions.
- Gain new skills necessary in the job market, such as leadership, decision-making and communication skills.
- Find new career opportunities they hadn’t thought of before. For example, students working in a senior citizen center may discover they would like to work in the human services field.
- Are less likely to become pregnant.
- Are more likely to feel valued.
- Are more likely to develop a strong work ethic and participate in their communities through voting and volunteering when they are older.
- Develop better appreciation for the little things in life as they are exposed to people and circumstances they had not encountered before.
- Feel empowered. Volunteerism teaches teens that they can make a difference in the world.
How Should Teens Get Started?
Trying to connect teens with appropriate community service projects may seem hard at first, but we have some tips.
- Talk to the teen about his/her strengths and interests. You want to match their natural talents with a need that fits. If the teen likes animals, the local shelter would be worth a try. If the teen enjoys talking to people, a retirement home should be considered.
- Make a list of possible volunteer opportunities. (In the next section of this blog, we will offer a list of possibilities.)
- Suggest that the teen make arrangements for a short-term project first as a trial run. Before they make a commitment, they should make sure they enjoy the work.
- Once they do commit to a volunteer project, help them to stay the course. There are almost always challenges, personality clashes, unexpected needs and alternative activities that look more fun. Be a good listener to these problems, but emphasize the importance of meeting obligations. Encourage the teen to always show up. They might be tempted, since they are not getting paid, to skip for something more interesting. Teach them the value of commitment.
- Consider volunteering with them, or encourage the teen to volunteer with their friends. Starting something new with someone you know is always easier.
What Volunteer Projects Are Available for Teens?
There are lots of community service opportunities for teenagers. You can often get information on projects from schools, local youth centers, contacting your local United Way or visiting nonprofit websites. Here are some ideas:
- Volunteer for the American Red Cross. This nonprofit offers many opportunities for youth such as organizing a blood drive, becoming educated and ready for disaster relief or training younger children in home safety.
- Collections! Hold a drive to collect food for the food bank, suitcases for foster kids, or pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House.
- Run a themed event for young kids at the local library.
- Assist in building a home with Habitat for Humanity.
- Help a local nonprofit with office work or compiling a mailing.
- Wash dishes or serve food at your local soup kitchen.
- Make a ‘tray favor’ for meal trays, such as a napkin ring, delivered through Meals on Wheels. It brightens up someone’s day and teens enjoy making the little treasures.
- Help clean-up or improve trails or plant trees at a State Park.
- Be a companion for an elderly person at a senior citizen center.
- Take care of animals at the shelter.
- Send troop care packages.
- Write letters to sick children.
- Help out at a fundraiser event. Or create your own fundraiser for your favorite charity.
- Replace graffiti with murals.
- Sew sleeping bags and/or blankets for the homeless.
Teens can develop a great deal of self-esteem in the simple act of helping others, while at the same time improving their own resume and becoming a more responsible person for our community. Do not deprive teens of the opportunity to make the world a better place.