If you’re a teenager and you’re breathing, raise your hand. Great! Thanks for volunteering!
There’s always a shortage of hands, and never a shortage of needs. Which means thousands of charities and services organizations welcome your help with open arms. If you’re thinking—what with schoolwork and extracurricular activities, maybe a part time job, too—that you don’t have time to add a volunteer commitment to the mix, get this: Teenage volunteers get serious physical health benefits from their altruistic efforts.
A University of British Columbia survey of 10th-grade volunteers showed a reduction in body fat, inflammation, and cholesterol, an increase in self-esteem and happiness, and decreased stress. "The volunteers who reported the greatest increases in empathy, altruistic behavior, and mental health were the ones who also saw the greatest improvements in their cardiovascular health," said the study’s author.
Even better, you can reap those benefits without going all in like these teens in Rogersville, Alabama, who responded to a personnel shortage at the Rogersville Volunteer Fire Station by signing up as volunteer firefighters, ready to take emergency calls at four in the morning. In fact, those 10th graders of the University of British Columbia study averaged just one hour per week of volunteer service.
You’ll find volunteer opportunities for teenagers in just about every school, and in most local churches, synagogues, and mosques. But if you’re interested in venturing a little farther afield, maybe even launching your own volunteer group, 60sR's got a round-up of everything you need to get started.
Web resources for teenage volunteers
High school students don’t have to look far to find information on volunteer opportunities. Here are five that caught our eye, all of which either connect teenagers with volunteer opportunities, or provide teenagers guidance in setting up their own volunteer operation.
Oh, and none of them charge a fee.
Some schools have almost everything. Other schools don’t. Some schools don’t even have the basics—like books and paper. ClassWish-HighSchool offers resources and tips on how high school students can organize ClassWish clubs in their schools, and launch ClassWish fundraising drives in their communities.
Volunteermatch.org's search engine lets you sort through a universe of volunteer opportunities by community and field of interest. Type in “music” and “Oakland, CA,” for example, and you’ll see opportunities to teach music to children with life-threatening illnesses through a charity called “CoachArt.” Easy-to-use and encyclopedic.
We love the name. DoSomething.org bills itself as the “the country’s largest non-profit for young people and social change.” They claim nearly two million volunteers under the age of 25, and their website cites crusades against “bullying, animal cruelty, homelessness, cancer,” and just about every other altruistic activity you can think of.
Mark the date: October 26, 2013. Make A Difference Day is billed as the “largest national community day of volunteer service.” The website lets you find Make A Difference Day activities in your community, and gives you tools to organize your own Make A Difference Day project and make it eligible to win a $10,000 cash grant.
Part youth club, part service organization, YVC says it seeks to "develop a lifetime commitment to volunteer service" by organizing summer and school-year volunteer activities for teenagers and near-teenagers between the ages of 11 and 18. More than two dozen YVC affiliate organizations operate throughout the U.S. and Canada.
More ideas for teenage volunteers
Local and national environmental groups couldn’t exist without volunteer support—and that includes the support of teenage volunteers. In the northeastern United States, for example, the Appalachian Mountain Club organizes teen trail maintenance crews. In southwestern Canada, Banff National Park offers teenagers opportunities to lead hikes and assist in tracking wildlife. Then there’s Earth Day to consider, as well as the myriad national cleanup activities sponsored by the Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society.
Most state parks could not function without the hands-on contributions of volunteers like you. Here’s an example, from the state of Oregon, of a volunteer program that accommodates teens and pre-teens starting at age 8. Search for your state, province, or community by typing the name of the location and “parks teen volunteer” in any major search engine.
Economic troubles have left many people short on necessities like food. Here’s a directory of local organizations that collect food and distribute food to those in need. Food banks would not be able to function without volunteer support.
Build houses. Give them to poor people. That’s what Habitat for Humanity has been doing for more than 30 years. Don’t know how to handle a hammer? Not a problem. Habitat takes volunteers as young as age 5.
Volunteer opportunities are limited only by your imagination. To wit: Do you knit? Download a pattern from the Guideposts Sweater Project and knit a sweater for a kid in Kosovo, or Romania, or wherever else there’s a need. And if you don’t know how to knit, no problem. The site links to resources that’ll teach you how.
Thousands of earthquake survivors. Or one child who needs a blood transfusion. Whatever, and wherever, the need, the Red Cross is there, with volunteer opportunities across the continent, and throughout the world. Want to know more? Start here.
Rehabilitation centers, disaster services, homeless shelters, the Salvation Army is massive and multifaceted and actively recruiting teenage volunteers. They’ve even created an iPhone app so you can sign up from the comfort of your own digital space.
You’ll find Ronald McDonald Houses serving the families of seriously ill children in almost every major city in the country. Most, if not all, seek the help of teenage volunteers. Here’s one example: the Ronald McDonald House in Charlotte, North Carolina. Search for similar opportunities at Ronald McDonald Houses in other communities.
Special Olympics describes itself as an “international program of year-round sports training and athletic competition for children and adults with mental retardation." Special Olympics offers myriad volunteer opportunities for teenagers, from sports training and competition planning, to administrative help and fundraising. Hundreds of Special Olympics offices around the world are waiting to hear from you!
You know how to read? Why not help those who can’t (yet)? Reading is Fundamental will help you find a program helping adults and underserved kids in communities throughout the United States. If you live in Canada, Frontier College has been mobilizing literacy volunteers nationwide since 1899.
Senior Citizens Centers
Many senior citizen centers offer volunteer programs to provide friendship and community activities to senior citizens. If you would like to work with senior citizens, call a senior citizen center in your neighborhood and see what kinds of volunteer programs they have available.
Most animal shelters welcome volunteer help, although many, like the Northeast Animal Shelter, require volunteers within the facilities themselves to be at least 16 years of age. PETA, the national animal rights organization, supports an extensive teenage volunteer program.