10 Great Volunteer Ideas for Teens

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by: Susan Friedman

Now might be the ideal time to set yourself up for next year's job. But you have to be willing to volunteer part-time in your community. Unpaid work can help you learn new skills, understand more about the workplace, and -- best of all -- give you something to point to when you're looking for a paid job in the future. Check out our great list of volunteer opportunities. Then scope out the possibilities in your own community.

Tips for Volunteers!

Show up. Resist the urge to skip a day, no matter how tempting ("I'm not getting paid. . . I don't really owe 'em anything"). Remember, you're establishing a work record for that future job.

Speak up. Don't be shy about asking questions. Don't be embarrassed if you don't understand something. In the real world, successful adults speak up when they're confused.

Step up. Any time you see something that needs to be done, do it without being asked. They'll appreciate your initiative.

Camp Counselor
Camps
Too old to go to camp but not yet old enough to be a full counselor? Then you might want to find out about the counselor-in-training program at a camp you've attended. Call to find out what's available and what the requirements are. Ask to speak to the camp director. CITs are usually 16 or 17 years old. Some camp for free, some have part of their camp fee waived and other CITs receive a small stipend -- it varies from camp to camp.
Visiting Hospital
Hospitals
Interested in medicine? Enjoy helping people? Then volunteering at your local hospital might be just the thing for you. Just call a hospital in your area and ask to speak to the volunteer coordinator or the director of volunteers. We found out about volunteer opportunities at Mason General Hospital in Shelton, Washington, where there are many volunteer opportunities for teens 14-18 years old. These include stocking nursing supplies, transporting patients with a nurse, making some pharmacy deliveries to nurse departments, bringing books to patients, sitting and talking to patients, and reading to patients.
Nursing Homes or Retirement Communities
Nursing Homes or Retirement Communities
"There's a natural link between the young and the old," says Helen Griffin, activities director, Rogerson Communities Adult Day Center in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. "It's we in the middle who've lost that link. We're too focused on our jobs, our bank accounts, our daily schedules. Plus, we tend to see what old people can't do. Kids see what they can do. Old folks and young people are happy to live in the present moment. And being around young people helps old people recreate memories."
Interested in volunteering with older people? Contact local retirement communities or nursing homes and ask to speak to the activities director, the director of recreation therapy, or the volunteer coordinator. Work opportunities include: office work; setting up the dining room; pushing wheelchairs; playing checkers, cards, and puzzles; talking and listening -- especially with blind people; delivering mail; reading it for people with vision problems; helping write letters; reading aloud in general; cooking projects, art projects, and sing-alongs.
Animal Shelter
Animal Shelters and Veterinary Offices
More comfortable around dogs than people? Investigate a career working with animals by volunteering. "Local animal shelters and vets are a great place to start looking for opportunities," says Chad Mouton, special events coordinator of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That's what 14-year-old Susie Liebler did in Exeter, New Hampshire. This summer she'll be shadowing a horse vet. She'll learn about the equipment that he uses and about different animal ailments and treatments. When she's not busy doing that, she'll be working in a vet's office: answering phones, escorting animals in and out, and cleaning the kennels. Don't expect to be training dogs on your first visit, though. Mouton says, "In most cases teenagers must be over 18 years old to actually 'handle' the animals."
Interested in this kind of opportunity? Look up veterinary offices and animal shelters and hospitals in your area. Ask to speak to the office manager or veterinarian to see how you can help.
Organic Garden
Garden Centers, Nurseries
Look up local garden centers and tree nurseries. Ask to speak to the owner or manager. Opportunities might include running the cash register, grooming outside areas, weeding, watering, and loading cars for customers. Some garden centers can't use unpaid labor because of the kind of insurance they carry. This varies from place to place, so shop around.
Mountain Range
Sierra Student Coalition
Take action -- help save the Earth! Find out what you can do to protect the environment by joining the Sierra Student Coalition, the student-run activitist program of the Sierra Club, a non-profit environmental organization. Though designed primarily for high-school and college students, this earth-friendly group will accept interested younger students. Volunteers participate in legislative and educational campaigns and attend training conferences to develop leadership and activist skills.
Libraries
Libraries
Do you enjoy going to your local library? We spoke with Georgean Johnson-Coffey at the Volunteer Services Department at the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana. About 30 percent of the volunteers at the library are between the ages of 11 and 17. They work in a variety of positions including computer center helper, studio camera operator, and children's program assistant. You can volunteer to be part of the Young Adult Advisory Council and have your voice heard in what services and materials are offered to young adults. Ms. Johnson-Coffey says, "My priority is to make the best possible match of volunteer to position." Sound like a fun way to spend your summer? You will find your local library in your city or town Blue Pages, under "Libraries." Ask to speak to someone in volunteer services.
Child at Aquarium
Museums and Aquariums
Not only are museums and aquariums great places to learn but many also offer volunteer opportunities for kids and teens. Call the museum or aquarium in your area to find out what's available and what the requirements are. Opportunities vary greatly from museum to museum, so contact the one you're interested in and ask what volunteers do. At the National Aquarium in Baltimore, high school volunteers need to be at least in their junior year of high school and are recommended for the volunteer positions by their science teachers. Not all places have such tough requirements.
Cameraman in Studio
Video and Television Production
Did you know that most communities have a cable access station and many offer video production classes and volunteer opportunities for kids and teens? Call your local cable company and ask for the number for the local cable access channel offices. Ask to speak to the volunteer director or the youth coordinator.
Opportunities for youth at cable access stations vary from community to community. Cable Access Incorporated of Fort Wayne, Indiana, sponsors the Three Rivers Video Contest. Not only is there a contest category specifically for teens and middle school kids, but Cable Access Incorporated runs programs that teach participants how to use the video equipment. To find out about the Cable Access opportunities in your area, contact your local cable access station.
Volunteer Definition
Volunteer Centers
Many communities have a volunteer center that can help you find that perfect volunteer opportunity. Opportunities include recycling centers, hospitals, museums, summer camps, and libraries. Search online or call your city or town hall to see if there's a volunteer center in your community. Ask to speak to the volunteer director or the volunteer coordinator.