Help Me Help You: Volunteering Resouces for Teens

If you’re currently in high school and on summer vacation, community service is probably one of those things you meant to dig into after you gave yourself some time to relax…and now it’s July, right? Don’t worry, you have time. This happens to be  the perfect month to make getting involved a priority.

Community service is a fantastic opportunity to gain useful skills, meet new people, and help change the world for the better- that’s why colleges value it.  Better yet, you could find yourself doing much more professional work than you ever could at a paid position. Volunteer experience counts as experience when applying for paying jobs, too!  If you haven’t yet found your volunteer passion, the summer is the perfect time to find the right opportunity and put in a lot of hours in a short period.

Here are some resources to get you started.

Reflection Time

Volunteering is about helping others, but that’s not the only reason it’s worthwhile: volunteering can be a way to expose yourself to professions that interest you. Work that you do with any non-profit organization is community service, and there are non-profits in almost every field imaginable.

When you think of non-profit organization, animal shelters, homeless services, and charities like the Red Cross or the Susan G. Komen Foundation probably come to mind.  However, there are many businesses that you may not even realize are potential volunteer spots for teens.  Here is a short list of the kinds of non-profit organizations that are out there:

Museums, theaters, galleries, religious organizations, summer camps, athletic organizations, hospitals, libraries, recycling centers, senior centers, job placement agencies, community gardens, organic farms, historic sites, law firms, environmental groups, and even some finance groups can be non-profits. Most major corporations also have a non-profit division, too.

You could potentially volunteer at any of them!

How do you want to make the world better? Non-profit organizations will always have a mission that benefits society in some way, and, whatever you do for them, you will be contributing to it. Whether you want to help cure cancer or help find homes for miniature poodles in your city, chances are that you’ll be able to find a group that wants the same thing.

Think about what skills you’d like to gain experience in. There’s a way to gain experience in almost anything across a wide variety of organizations. Interested in math? Development departments (the part of a non-profit that’s responsible for raising money) could teach you about accounting. Writing? You might be able to support grant-writers. Computer science? Smaller nonprofits often welcome help making changes to websites or fixing computers. The arts? Galleries and museums might need attendants, and theaters always need ushers and scene crew. Marketing? Nearly all non-profits would love to have you make flyers, call donors, or even help with social media!

The last thing you need to do before you look for a placement is decide how much time you’d like to devote to volunteering. Make sure you know when you can work and that you have transportation; if you can’t show up when you said you would, you will probably not be invited back.

Finding the Right Opportunity

Many non-profits don’t have the time to post on those sites, but virtually all of them welcome volunteers!  When you have a specific cause in mind, do some Googling for organizations, and look for volunteer resources. Often, this will be in the “Giving” or “Ways to Help” tab.

Here are a few resources where organizations post notices for their specific volunteer needs:

Teen Life
Idealist
VolunteerMatch

That’s not the only way to find a place to volunteer! If you find an organization that seems perfect, but you can’t find any volunteering information, give them a call! There’s probably someone on staff who is in charge of giving volunteers work to do.  Let them know when you’d like to help, and what areas you might be interested in.

Work it

Now that you’ve secured your dream volunteer job, you get to do the work. Remember to bring any paperwork from your school or honors organizations that you need signed to report the time!

It’s important to treat this as a job! Show up on time, dress appropriately for the task, and be polite and positive. Be flexible about the type of work you do: you may not be able to do exactly what you want, and you might work a LOT, but you will learn how the organization works, forge new relationships, and help a cause that’s important to you. If you prove yourself to be a reliable worker, you may be offered bigger projects or invited to be a regular intern.

From there, who knows! According to a 2012 study, at least 10.1% of all workers (that’s over 10.7 million people) in the US are employed by nonprofits. You can bet that more than a few started as volunteers and turned their passion into a fulfilling career.

Whether you spend a day, a week, or the rest of your life working for a cause you believe in, you will be all the better for it. Take the time this summer to find a volunteer opportunity that does more than fulfill a requirement – it could be the experience of a lifetime.

By Emma L.