Teens and Volunteerism: Try It, They’ll Love It!

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December 2, 2009 by middleearthnj

As adults, when we look at the adolescent who rolls their eyes when asked to mow the lawn or procrastinates over cleaning their room, the idea of this same teen volunteering in the community seems laughable. The joke may be on you, because 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.
  • Improve their chances of graduating at the top of their class.
  • Gain new skills necessary in the job market, such as leadership, decision-making and communication skills.
  • Look more attractive on college and scholarship applications.
  • 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.
  • 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. Surprisingly, adolescents who volunteer are likely to repeat the experience, because they love it! Research shows a direct correlation exists between people volunteering when they are young and continuing their service as they get older.

How Should Teens Get Started?

Trying to connect teens with community service projects may seem hard at first, but we have some tips. First, talk to the adolescent 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. Second, make a list of possible volunteer opportunities. In the next section of this blog, we will offer a list of possibilities. Third, suggest 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. Fourth, 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. Finally, 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?

Middle Earth recently conducted an online poll on their website asking “what is your teen doing to give back to the community?” Most people indicated that their teen was getting involved in school-sponsored charity collections, fundraisers or events. This is definitely a great way to begin volunteering, but don’t stop there!

There are lots of community service opportunities for teenagers. You can often get information on projects from schools, local youth centers (such as Middle Earth), contacting your local United Way or visiting nonprofit websites. Here are some ideas:

  • Organize a blood drive for the Red Cross.
  • 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.
  • 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 at senior citizen center.
  • Take care of animals at the shelter.
  • Send troop care packages.
  • Mail letters to sick children.
  • Help out a fundraiser event.

Don’t Deprive Teens of Their Chance to Shine

Teenagers need the chance to make a difference in their families, at schools and in their communities. These opportunities help them become aware of the needs of others, encourage a sense of personal responsibility to contribute to the larger society, and opens the door to possibility. Young people want to be involved in making the world a better place, and volunteerism significantly improves their chance of becoming a responsible and productive adult. So, don’t just use the phrase “try it, you might like it” with dinner… use it with volunteerism, too!

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