Many kids need community service hours, and summer is the perfect time to volunteer! Here, 6 ideas to help you find charities that are a good fit.
by Laura Quaglio
For many teens and tweens, volunteer work is not only a wonderful way to give back to the community, it’s a necessity. “In Marin County, numerous high schools require community service in order to graduate,” says Jordana Perman, director of community outreach at SummerAde, a non-profit that provides teen volunteering opportunities in Marin County, Calif. “One of the local Catholic schools has a 100-hour minimum.” Other programs, scholarships, clubs, and religious organizations also require volunteer hours each year or from time to time. If your teens and tweens are among those seeking a place to earn their hours — or if your kids simply love helping others — it’s important to find volunteer work that speaks to their individual passions and interests. Why? Because that ensures a more rewarding experience for your child and the charity they serve. In fact, says Jordana, finding the right fit is so important that SummerAde has recently revamped its screening process in order to select those volunteers who are truly the best fit for their program.
A Good Fit = A Better Volunteering Experience
Careful screening of teen applicants, says Jordana, ensures that kids are there for the right reasons. This is particularly important at SummerAde, since teen volunteers serve as mentors to kids with special needs such as autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, diabetes, genetic disorders, and spinal injuries. Their role can be challenging and rewarding in equal measure. The same holds true for any charity: Kids who are handy in the kitchen might enjoy working at a soup kitchen or food bank. Those who adore pets or are a bit shy around people may prefer serving at a local animal shelter. Teens whose grandparents aren’t close to home might benefit from spending time with older adults at a senior center. In the case of SummerAde, says Jordana, some of the best mentor teens are those who have family members who have disabilities. And teen volunteers with type 1 diabetes have been wonderful mentors for young kids who need to monitor their blood sugar. (Learn more about SummerAde below.)
Surprising Career Perks of Teen Volunteer Work
The benefits of community service, of course, reach far beyond “earning hours” for school. Many colleges will ask applicants about their community service experiences (whether in interviews or essays). Listings of charity work may also impress future employers. Sometimes the experience can alter the trajectory of a teen’s life, revealing whether a particular career path, such as veterinary work, special education, or a medical career, is truly their calling. “We have one young woman who volunteered for two summers and she went on to attend a special education program at the local university,” says Jordana. The girl reported that her time spent with SummerAde played a big part in that decision. Other mentor teens have reported that their experience taught them patience, understanding, tolerance, awareness of personal limitations and capabilities, and flexibility — rewards that can be reaped from helping out charities of all kinds.
Find the Right Service Option for Your Teen or Tween
There are thousands of charity organizations that welcome assistance from teens and tweens. To find the best fit for your young volunteer, start by thinking of the activities, classes, and camps your child enjoyed when they were younger – or something they still do today. Or do some exploring online on sites such as the ones listed below, then check out those your kids find intriguing.
Mentor Kids at a Marin County Summer Camp with SummerAde
SummerAde, started by a behavioral pediatrician in 2009, gives Marin County teens (grades 8th through 12th) a chance to serve as mentors for campers (preschool through 8th grade) who have special needs. This match-up means that children with special needs can often attend Marin County summer day camps that might otherwise be off-limits. Each mentor teen joins one camper for a week or two at their chosen camp, helping them adjust to the schedule, navigate activities, connect with other campers, and thoroughly enjoy the program – all while keeping the camper’s safety and special needs in mind. This year, SummerAde will be working with ActivityHero to help pair mentor teens with ActivityHero providers. (Parents of kids with special needs can visit the “Parents” section of the SummerAde website to learn more about the program.)
Join a Teen Volunteer Team with Lion’s Heart
This provider actually teaches teens how to “become the change they want to see in the world.” Since 2004, this national non-profit organization has helped teens in 6th through 12th grade create volunteer groups in their own community, serving in whatever way the teens choose. The activity teaches not only charity but leadership, teamwork, and decision-making skills. (You can contact Lion’s Heart right here on ActivityHero.com.)
Learn About 100,000+ Charities on VolunteerMatch
VolunteerMatch touts itself as “The Web’s Largest Volunteer Engagement Network.” Its website connects more than 100,000 non-profit organizations with volunteers looking for opportunities in a wide variety of causes. The most popular include charities devoted to animals, children, the local community, education, the environment, health care, the homeless, and women, and more. It has made 10.6 million referrals since 1998.
Get Involved in Santa Clara County with GoVoluntr
GoVoluntr is a social network that helps teens in Santa Clara County find local non-profits, register for events, and encourage their friends to join them in their volunteer activities. Not only can kids earn service hours, but they can earn “VP points” (as you would with a rewards card from a retailer), which you can later redeem at participating local businesses. Bay Area teens can check out the Bay Area Volunteer Information Center or HandsOn Bay Area for volunteer options close to home.
Join the Microvolunteering Movement with Help From Home
You don’t have to spend a lot of time at one organization to make an impact. And time-pressed teens might love the idea of “microvolunteering” – do-gooding for a small chunk of time ranging from under a minute to a half hour. Not all activities will count toward service hours, but they all add up in the grand scheme of things! Getting started is simple and quick: Teens visit Help From Home, click on a category, choose a type of action (Do Good, Green, or Advocacy), and select from a diverse menu of creative ideas.
Build Your Resume with ActivityHero Teen Counselor-in-Training and Teen Leadership Programs
ActivityHero providers are always looking for middle school and high school students to step into the role of mentor at their camps and classes. This volunteer work offers summer fun (and volunteer service hours) for kids who feel they’ve outgrown summer camp. It might even lead to a future part-time job as a counselor at that ActivityHero provider. Search ActivityHero to find opportunities near you based on age, budget, schedule, and other factors.