How to Get Your Teen to Volunteer
Volunteering can be a rewarding experience for people of all ages. There is plenty of opportunities to get involved in a community activity or support a organization or charity. For many teens, volunteerism is a requirement in their schools. While it looks good on resumes and college applications, volunteer hours can be a graduation requirement just like math, language, and science. The number of hours vary depending on the school district or extracurricular club. Some high schools expect as few as 40 hours while others require 100 hours. National Honor Society has a national minimum of 25 hours a year while the service organization Key Club expects at least 50 hours per year.
When teens are involved in organizations that plan service days or activities to gain volunteer hours, it is easy for them to obtain their hours. However, many teens are not sure where to look or are ambivalent to the idea of wasting their precious hours on something that may seem meaningless to them. If you enjoy volunteering, you may have already modeled the volunteer spirit in them. Otherwise, you and your teen need some resources to connect them with a volunteering experience they will enjoy.
Before your teen starts their quest, talk with them about the things that interest them. Do they like to help others? What kind of skills can they bring to an organization? Is there an area of interest that can help them get accepted into their college or post-secondary field of choice? Once they have considered these options, then their search will not feel so daunting.
My teenage son has been volunteering for as long as he remembers. There were weekends where the whole family would help with the community roadside trash pickup. His elementary school had an outdoor learning lab in which students from kindergarten on could earn hours working in the garden and the nature trail. While he enjoys the hands-on approach in volunteerism, he has been looking at new options that will help him after graduation. Many of these tips have helped him and his friends.
Volunteering for Religious Institutions
If your family is a member of a church, synagogue, mosque, and such, you may already have a source for volunteerism and fellowship. Helping one another is often a focus of many faiths. While missionary work abroad is always an option, sometimes there is work to be done closer to home. Ask your religious leader if there are any projects your teen can do. If it is a small congregation or gathering, they already have limited funds. They may rely more on the members who clean the facility, do the yard work, or make repairs. Perhaps your son is good with tools and can make simple fixes around the building. Maybe your daughter would like to interact with people by serving at soup kitchens or weekly meals. Whether there is a "job jar" that needs to be addressed or a regularly scheduled program or event, there is always a need for help. Volunteers are always sought after and teens gain a lot both physically and spiritually.
Volunteering Through School Organizations
As mentioned before, school organizations have a number of opportunities for students to earn volunteer hours. From blood drives to holiday collections, they need people to participate in order for their events to run smoothly. If your teen is unable to participate or does not belong to those types of organizations, they can speak with their guidance counselor. They often know about non-profits who would be happy to help teens get their volunteer hours. Many high schools also have a credit course available for students. While there is no grade, students direct their own group project through a school-approved organization.
Some high schools and universities host volunteer fairs. This gives organizations a chance to promote their group as well as encourage new volunteers to help their cause. Your teen can learn about organizations that share their interest or connect with one that inspires them. These organizations may also be on websites such as Volunteer.org.
Did You Know?
In the 2015 Current Population Survey, teenagers aged 16-19 had one of the highest volunteer rates compared to other age groups. You can read more about volunteering in the United States at the Bureau of Labor Statistic's website.
Tips to Get Your Teen to Volunteer
- Encourage your teen to take the lead on their volunteer search.Even if you can get them a spot working with children at the youth center or helping cats at the humane society, it doesn't mean that it is the kind of activity they want to do. Your teen will gain skills and be more confident and proud in their selection.
- Be prepared to take them to their volunteer jobs. Just like a paying job, these organizations are counting on everyone to show up and do their part. If your teen isn't driving or doesn't have their own transportation, you better be ready to get them there. If you are interested in the same cause, you can also arrange to volunteer at the same time. For example, your teen may walk the dogs and clean cages while you are stuffing envelopes with flyers in the office.
- This is volunteerism, not babysitting. Don't encourage your child to volunteer so that you have someone to watch over them while you are at work or having free time. That makes the whole thing more about you than your teen. While some after-school programs such as Boys and Girls Club of America involve teen helpers in many of their activities, other programs are not designed like that. Some organizations have age requirements for the safety of the volunteers and those involved. Your 14-year old will not be a good fit for Meals on Wheels because they cannot drive. Your 16-year old may not help special needs horseback riders because of liability issues. Any volunteer activity must be age-appropriate.
- Get friends involved. Your teen may be more interested in doing the same activities as their friends. For example, a public library may need helpers for their summer reading program. They need as many teens and tweens to help preschoolers with their book connection project. Not only do they get service hours, but they share it with someone they get along with. You can also arrange rides with that friend's parent.