Teenage community service is more than something that your mom insists will look good on your high school resume. It can point you to new interests, new friends, and if you’re really lucky, maybe even a lifelong career. And yeah, okay, it’ll also look good on your resume.
But beyond all of that, community service instills a lifelong habit of helping others. It encourages you to look to the needs of your community and use your resources to pass on good to those who need it the most. Whether it’s a service that is well-known and carries prestige or small acts like clearing trash from your favorite hiking trails. Community service is about serving your community and keeping that tenant in mind will help you make the right choices in all that you do.
But where to start? “Volunteering” is a big word. How can you be sure you’re finding opportunities that are right for you? There are always easy entry points, like the service clubs at your high school or religious organization, but beyond that, the options can get overwhelming.
TeenLife is here to help! Here are 50 tips to help set you on the path to community service superstardom. Once you’ve read up, be sure to check out our full list of teen volunteer opportunities to find something near you.
Community Service at Home: Be a Self-Starter
Is your schedule maxed out? Having trouble finding organizations that fit your needs? Here are 10 easy ways to volunteer without making any long-term commitments.
- Donate clothes that you no longer wear.Search your closet to find items in good condition that you’ve outgrown or don’t wear anymore. Take them to your local Goodwill, Salvation Army, or shelter. It’s also worth a call to schools and shelters in your area—most plan several clothing drives throughout the year.
- Donate food. Pick up some non-perishables to donate to your local food bank.
- Donate toys. Certain shelters, fire departments, and foster parent organizations, alongside organizations like Delivering Good, welcome new or slightly used toys and stuffed animals.
- Pick up some trash. Head out to a local conservation area, beach, or hiking trail, and spend a few hours beautifying your surroundings. Start small in your own neighborhood or maximize your impact by looking for events hosted by environmental nonprofits.
- Pass on birthday gifts for the benefit of others. For your next birthday, ask that people give donations to a charity of your choice instead of gifts. When you drop off the donations, ask about volunteer opportunities.
- Give back to the troops. Send a package or cards to deployed troops, veterans, wounded soldiers or first-responders through organizations like Project Gratitude. Or donate used cell phones to help deployed troops communicate through Cell Phones for Soldiers.
- Find others to join a shared cause. Create or join a campaign through DoSomething.org. You can choose the cause, the amount of time you have available and the type of service in which you want to participate (donations, face-to-face, events, taking a stand, etc.).
- Donate books. Collect children’s books and other reading materials for shelters, libraries and schools, then ask if they need volunteer readers.
- Let your voice be heard in politics. You know how everyone always says “write a letter to your senator?” Write a letter to your senator. Find out when your senators or representatives are holding public meetings; attend them. It’s one of the easiest ways to make sure the issues you care about get to the ears of the people who can fix them. If this develops into a passion, consider attending a social justice summer program that shows you how to add power to advocacy.
- Help those close to home. Offer to rake leaves, shovel the driveway, or do housework for someone in need. You might discover something fascinating about your neighbor or unearth a network of connections that was quite literally just around the corner.
Community Service Starts With You: Share Your Gifts, Time, and Passions with Others
Believe it or not, you’re probably harboring a treasure trove of helpful skills that you take for granted on a daily basis. Here are some tips to help you turn your hidden abilities into fulfilling service!
- Help the Internet be a tool for everyone. Growing up in the information age puts you at a huge advantage, and it’s pretty easy to spread your knowledge by doing something like teaching computer skills at your local senior center.
- Teach your favorite subjects to those who struggle. Do you love science? History? Literature? Volunteer to tutor! If you excel in a particular subject, then share your knowledge with other students in your school who may be struggling or work with a service group to tutor underserved children.
- Help spread knowledge at your local museum. Do you love the wonders of natural history and the great stories of the past? You can help keep these institutions alive by donating your time and energy at your local museum. While you might not be excavating a dig site, every little bit helps them keep the love of science and history alive.
- Help others learn English. Even if you don’t feel qualified to be an academic tutor, you can use the language you already speak as a valuable resource. Check with local iteracy, immigrant or school groups to see if they need tutors for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) programs.
- Help future athletes find their feet. Spend most of your free time on the field? Volunteer to coach or referee with a youth team. Your town recreation department, Boys and Girls Club or Y is probably looking for volunteers, and they should be so lucky that someone with your expertise.
- Create and donate warm clothing for those in need. Wizard with a pair of knitting needles? Many knitting shops, religious organizations, and libraries have charitable knitting groups where you can put your hands to good use and craft blankets, scarves or afghans for people in need.
- A simple word game can go a long way. Got a big vocabulary and a little time to kill? Test your skill on freerice.com. The organization will donate 10 grains of rice through the World Food Programme for every answer you get right. Once you’ve made Webster proud, think of ways to collect donations for other food-relief organizations near you.
- Help a small non-profit become social media stars. Believe it or not, the hours you spend on Instagram are good for more than just grandparent-complaint-fuel. Many nonprofits don’t have the bandwidth to run their social media accounts, and just by being a teenager, you’re in a great position to help out!
- Back to basics: put on a bake sale. Put the knowledge you’ve gleaned from 600 weekly hours of “The Great British Baking Show” to use. Research charities in your area, and reach out to see if you can organize an age-old bake sale for them. Nothing says “outreach” quite like a fragrant pan of lemon bars.
- Share the music you create and love. Do you sing or play a musical instrument? Most people don’t! Volunteer to give music lessons to people in your community, or perform at local shelters or senior organizations.
Community Service Can Start Small: Volunteer at an Event
Not ready to commit to a regular gig? Volunteer for an event. Nonprofits usually recruit a ton of one-off volunteers for big events like festivals or block parties. By working one of these, you’ll get a feel for the way an organization works before you’ve signed away your life, and you can interact with other people who are more involved than you are.
- Help a walk-a-thon. Volunteer to run/walk/ride for an event, like Race for the Cure or Relay for Life.
- Make a difference in a child’s life. Events like “World Foster Day” always need support, as they aim to help children in foster care feel loved, cared for, and special no matter what the circumstances.
- Help preserve nature. Participate in a cleanup day at a local beach, trail, waterway or park.
- Share the fun with those who cannot participate. Been told you’re “too old” to trick-or-treat because you’re “in high school” and “at this point you’re basically stealing candy from children?" Never fear. Dust off that old Jedi costume and put on your walking shoes, because no one will judge you if you’re collecting for UNICEF this Halloween.
- Be a part of those who make Dr. King’s dream a reality. Join other people in your community for an event associated with the National Day of Service in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. This annual day happens in January around the MLK holiday, but the website has ideas on how to stay involved with causes year-round.
- Join one of the many ways to celebrate Earth Day. Mark your calendar! Earth Day is April 22, and a whole slew of nonprofits have planting or cleanup events to give the planet a well-deserved pat on the back. You can also check to see if there are any festivals in your area.
- Exercise your civil rights and let your voice be heard. Passionate about a local, national, or global issue? Spurred by all those letters you wrote to your senators after reading the first part of this list? See if there are marches in your area that align with your beliefs, or—better yet—start your own!
- Help bring awareness to the invisible community that lives among us. Organize or participate in a sleep-out to connect with organizations that fight homelessness.
- Put food on the table for those who don’t have any. Thanksgiving is another rallying point for service organizations. Invite your whole family to volunteer with you at a local shelter near the holiday to aid in one of their large-scale meal operations.
- Bring a smile to a child’s face. Once you’ve donated toys and games, help charities in your area distribute them! Local organizations often host holiday parties or gift giveaways. Check with shelters, foster organizations, libraries, and religious organizations to see when they need volunteers or donated goods.
Community Service Can Be an Investment: Long-term Opportunities
Organizations love it when they can find consistent help – and (fine, mom) colleges like it when you commit to an organization rather than flitting through many different volunteer jobs. Here’s a list of organizations most likely to offer long-term opportunities.
- Help animals find forever homes. Channel the energy you expend sending dog pictures to your group chat and start to use it to help the real lives of real animals. Check the volunteer guidelines at your local animal shelter or ASPCA chapter.
- Help disadvantaged kids feel heard and appreciated. Become a mentor to a younger student through organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters. They accept students over the age of 16 for their after-school mentoring programs.
- Help stories come to life at your local library. Ask your library to see if they need volunteers for after-school clubs or children’s book groups. If you’re lucky, you could wind up performing afternoon puppet shows in a hat and a cape or having glitter thrown at you by a pack of third-graders!
- Help children with disabilities shine. Work with special-needs kids or adults through an organization like Best Buddies or Special Olympics.
- Deliver food for those who are homebound. Check out the opportunities at your local chapter of Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to homebound residents. You’ll get to see your community, forge new relationships, and maybe even share a meal with a new friend!
- Be a friendly and compassionate voice on the other end of the phone. Volunteer at a crisis line that relies on teen volunteers as peer counselors.
- Make a friend from across the generations. Ask if you can drop by one of your local elder-care facilities to chat with residents who don’t have family or frequent visitors.
- Keep your favorite park clean. Love the outdoors? Environmental organizations need volunteers to do tasks like water testing, trail maintenance and animal management. If you’re a science kid, this might be a perfect match for your skills.
- Support parents in need during tough times by helping with childcare. Sometimes, you’ve just got to live like you’re in a teen movie. Offer to babysit! But rather than watch your neighbor’s fearsome 8-year-old twins, contact a local women’s shelter, foster parent group, or social services department to volunteer your care.
- Help your local, small theater group keep the love of arts alive. Tap into your love of the performing arts and volunteer to usher at your local symphony or theater company.
Community Service Can Start With a Dream and Change the World!
Have a unique idea and a knack for organization? Start your own organization! Here's a quick guide to launching your own endeavor, and here are some of our favorite ideas from teens who’ve broken the mold and created their own volunteer opportunities.
- Jonathan Woods established the Under the Tree Foundation at 12, when he realized that holiday toy drives are often aimed at younger children and exclude teens who are also in need.
- Inspired by family visits to her grandparents in India, Neha Gupta began Empower Orphans at the age of 9. The organization tends to the needs of orphaned children worldwide, with a particular focus on access to healthcare and education.
- After reading a story about child slavery in the Toronto Star, 12-year-old Craig Kielburger began Free the Children, now known as WE Charity. The organization aims to fight child labor on a global scale and has now reached well over 2 million children.
- Zach Certner and his brother started SNAP, an athletic program for children with special needs, when Zach was just 10 years old. Now he’s 22, and the program is still going strong.
- Shannon McNamara started SHARE, a nonprofit that provides thousands of girls in Africa with books and school supplies, when she was 15.
- Alexandra Scott started Alex’s Lemonade Stand when she was diagnosed with childhood cancer. Her goal? Use her funds to find a cure for cancer. Alex passed away in 2004 and since then, her stand and dreams went on to raise more than $1 million towards finding a cure.
- Hannah Taylor, at 8 years-old, founded the Ladybug Foundation. Now it is a charity that actively works to promote awareness and assistance for homeless individuals.
- Liana Rosenman and Kristina Saffran, teens in recovery from anorexia, started Project HEAL to raise money for teens needing treatment for eating disorders.
- LuLu Cerone founded LemonAID Warriors when she was 10 to help other kids make social activism part of their social lives.
- Katie Stagliano started planting fruits and vegetables in her garden to start her hand in feeding the hungry. Her organization, Katie’s Krops, has helped feed thousands of people and has trained other teen gardeners to do the same.
Inspired to volunteer? Check out this link for some great volunteer opportunities!