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How Teens Can Do Community Service in the Great Outdoors

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You’re a teen who wants to do community service. And you love the outdoors. This summer, why not combine volunteering with being outside in the places you love or want to explore?

Organized teen summer programs can connect you with community service all over the world. A Broader View, for example, runs one-week to three-month programs in Asia, Africa and Central and South America. Or, you can contact schools, state and national parks, religious organizations and others to find opportunities on your own. Search on Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and other social media for organizations that interest you and watch for events and volunteer callouts.

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Here are 10 ideas to get you started.

  1. Farming: You can use your own yard or many towns and cities have community garden plots for vegetables, fruits or flowers. Some food banks and community groups work with clients to create their own gardens and grow their own healthy foods. Contact your local food bank, community garden coordinator or state extension service to find organizations that need fresh food or volunteers to help with gardening projects.

  2. Clean-up: You don’t have to live in a far-flung area to get out on the trail. Even major cities have walking trails, bike paths or beaches that rely on volunteers for clean-up and maintenance. Look for “friends” organizations (e.g. The Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy in Boston) – nonprofits that raise money and recruit volunteers for maintaining public outdoor spaces. Want more adventure? Groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club plan service trips for teens in the wilds.

  3. Sustainability: Several summer program organizations offer volunteer programs focused on sustainability abroad or in the United States. Amigos de las Americas sponsors a summer program in Panama concentrating on reforestation and other projects. Sustainable Summer has programs overseas as well as at Dartmouth College.

  4. Camping: Summer overnight camps need counselors, aides, instructors and activity leaders. Don’t want to leave town? Check with your town recreation department, elementary schools or nonprofits to ask about summer daycare or camps. Many nonprofit and town camps use teen volunteers to augment staff positions. Stepping Stones in Cincinnati, Ohio, for example, recruits volunteers ages 13 and older to work at its special needs summer camp.

  5. Construction: Habitat for Humanity and other housing organizations build affordable houses all over the world. They may sponsor “builds” within your community or offer the opportunity to travel to places in the United States or overseas to work on projects.

  6. Event support: Golf tournaments, road races, parades, charity walks and athletic events all need volunteers to staff water stations and do set-up and clean-up. This is a good way to meet people and find out if an organization really interests you.

  7. Refereeing: Town recreation departments, Little League, and other groups need referees and umpires for youth sports like soccer and T-ball. This isn’t as big a commitment as coaching but keeps you connected to a sport you love.

  8. Animals: If you’re 16 and over you can volunteer at animal shelters, walking dogs and helping to socialize cats and other animals. If you’re under 16, you may be able to volunteer if accompanied a parent or other adult. For something wilder, the African Conservation Experience offers two- to 12-week programs in southern Africa working with animal welfare groups.

  9. Cultural exchange: Programs such as Visions Service Adventures are a chance to do community service in another part of the country or the world. Visions takes volunteers to Montana to work with children and do building projects on the Blackfeet Indian reservation.

  10. Do-it-yourself: Look around your town and see if you see an area like a playground or athletic field that needs clean-up or repair. See what you can do on your own or by organizing a group of friends.

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Written by Susan Moeller

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Susan Moeller is a former newspaper editor and reporter who has directed education coverage as well as written about schools and children. She lives on Cape Cod, has three children and is a veteran of the boarding school and college search process.

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