I can’t draw, but boy can I paint. Paint by numbers, that is. I was volunteering at a Washington, DC public school, helping paint murals on the walls. Luckily, someone else had already drawn the mural on the wall and I simply filled in the colors. At the time, I was working full-time and attending grad school part-time. But, every year I set aside a Saturday to clean up and beautify DC Public schools. I couldn’t give a lot of time, but I was always able to give some time.
As a Social Studies teacher, I also encouraged my students to volunteer. In one of my former school districts, all students have to complete a service project as part of their Government class. For most kids, they take Government in 12th grade. So on top of SATs, college applications, and the general stress of senior year, they have to find a non-profit and spend time volunteering.
It’s one of the best things that ever happened to them.
We all know that service helps the community. But, there are 3 powerful reasons why volunteering is good for your teen, too.
Why Your Teen Needs to Volunteer
Volunteering builds empathy
Teens are very focused on themselves and their own insular worlds. Volunteering forces them out of the world of school and into the larger community. As a Social Studies teacher, I felt that half of my job was to get teens to realize that people lived differently than they did. Volunteering accomplishes that REAL fast. Teens see people without health care, housing, food, or access to other services that teens take for granted.
My former school district was fairly wealthy. Many of my students were shocked to discover the amount of poverty hiding right under their noses. And they were more shocked to find out other students in their school used services such as food banks, homeless shelters, and free medical clinics. Suddenly, their cracked iPhone screen seemed less trivial. They began to question why such poverty existed and what else they could do to improve their community.
Volunteering lights a fire
Volunteering is a way to find or further a personal passion. I love history and was able to further that interest by volunteering as a tour guide at a small house musuem. I learned so much local history while volunteering there! It was honestly a joy to come in each month.
Volunteering is also a way to explore a possible future career field. Say that your teen loves animals. Working at an animal shelter gets him experience around a LOT of different animals, exposure to dealing with the public, information about how animal shelters work, and the fun and not-so-fun parts of the job. (Cuddling kittens – yay! Cleaning litter boxes – yuck.) I always had students who became more committed to a future career path after volunteering in the field.
Volunteering improves time management and responsibility
Non-profit organizations need volunteers to commit to regular volunteering. For many teens, this means balancing their free time with school work, other after school activities, and volunteering. (If your kiddo isn’t already using a planner, grab one and my free planner worksheet to get started.) Time management is an important skill they need to learn and hone anyway!
Teens can become more responsible through their volunteer work. Why? Because the organization is relying on them to show up on time and work. For many teens, being late to class or family activities is no big deal. However, do you remember when you messed up at your first job or volunteering gig? I do – I felt HORRIBLE and was determined to never have that happen again. Volunteering can have the impact on your kiddo, too.
Bonus Reason – Volunteers is useful on a resume
While this is not my favorite perk, the reality is that some kids just volunteer because it looks good on college and job applications. And they’re not wrong. Volunteering does look on college applications. A word of caution though – instead of bouncing around to a lot of different organizations, commit to a steady gig with 1 non-profit. Teens applying for their first job can list volunteering as relevant experience. Possibly, they can also use the volunteer coordinator as a reference.
So how do kids find a volunteer opportunity or organization to work with? Grab my FREE planning worksheet by clicking on the button below. I’ll wait.
OK, got it? Great!
Finding Teen Volunteer Opportunities
First, focus on your teen’s interests. Do they want to become a doctor? The local hospital needs candy stripers (yes, they still exist). Your teen loves music? The local choir or orchestra needs people to take tickets and usher at their performances.
Encourage your teen to make a commitment to an organization. Have your teen look at his or her schedule and carve out time to volunteer on a regular basis. It might just be a few hours a month. If that’s not possible, look for organizations that put out calls for single events.
Go to Volunteermatch.org to find volunteer opportunities that match your child’s interests. It’s an awesome website that matches your interests and locations with volunteer opportunities. (I’ve used the site successfully in the past.) The site also lists one-time volunteer events in your community.
Never underestimate the power of Google. Just type in volunteer opportunity for teens + your city and see what comes up! When I did this for my city (Denver), I found volunteer opportunities at the animal shelter, Red Cross, the public library, and (since it’s Colorado) local parks.
Now it’s time to actually contact the organizations. For some reason, this freaks out a lot of teens. They are terrified to call a stranger on a phone. Granted, cold calling is not exactly my favorite thing to do. Correction – it’s basically my least favorite thing to do. So, I’ve created a handy dandy script for your kiddo to follow. If you haven’t already, download the planning worksheet – the phone script is included!
Volunteering is a really a win-win for your teen, you, and the community. Get more ideas for teen volunteer opportunities on my Teen Volunteering Pinterest board.
Let me know what opportunities your teen finds in the comment below!
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