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Why You Should Spend Some of This Summer in Community Service

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Male and female volunteers sort donations during food drive

While you’re dreaming of all the things you can do this summer, pencil in one more: community service.

Was that a groan? It shouldn’t be. Summer, when you don’t have homework or as many other commitments, is a great time for teens to volunteer, even if it’s just an hour a week. Whether you’re working or going to camp or taking a pre-college summer course, there are ways to squeeze in a few hours to do something for somebody else.

Why should you bother?

There are several reasons: Community service is good for the community, but it’s also good for teenagers (even if it’s not required by your high school).

Here’s why:

  • Volunteering exposes you to new ideas and problems and to ways to solve those problems. Let’s say you volunteer to pick up trash along the highway and notice there are scores of those small liquor bottles called “nips.” That might encourage you to lobby your state legislature to implement a bottle deposit or to ban nips altogether.

  • Volunteering is a way to practice employment skills, even if you’re not technically employed. You will be required to make a commitment, to show up on time, to be respectful and polite with clients or the public and to take responsibilities for your actions. Those are all things employers want to see on your resume.

  • Volunteering is a good way to meet mentors and network with people other than your parents or teachers, particularly if you live in an area where summer jobs are scarce. Other volunteers may not only teach you something, but, assuming you’re a responsible volunteer, might help you find a high school internship, or write recommendation letters for next summer’s job or your college application.

  • Volunteering is a way to show colleges that you can commit to something other than school. All those hours you spend painting sets for the community theater group will look good on your resume when you apply to art school.

  • Community service can change the world. Really. Volunteering might seem like a small step, but think of the power of all the volunteers around the world who are making a difference in people’s lives, public policy or the environment one action at a time.

  • It’s fun. You’ll discover new places and people and have plenty to talk about when someone asks, “How did you spend your summer?”

What’s your next step?

  • Create a resume. Even though this isn’t a paying job, organizations will want to know about you, what you can do and how to get in touch with you. And, a resume will come in handy as a reminder when you’re filling out volunteer applications. Not sure how to write one? Check out TeenLife’s resume guide.

  • Do your homework. Go online or (yup) actually call local organizations that interest you to see what kind of volunteers they need and and how to apply. This could be anything from a shelter to a summer camp to a clinic. Note: Some organizations – hospitals and animal shelters, for example – may have age restrictions. Take notes: If this summer isn’t a fit, next summer might be.

  • Head to the library. Libraries have bulletin boards where community organizations post call-outs for volunteers or special events. It’s a good place to get a list of local nonprofits that might need help. And, the library itself may need volunteers.

  • Think about your skills. Are you a whiz on social media? Do you speak a language other than English? Can you write a press release or noodle a database? Could you tutor someone in the intricacies of physics or French? Consider what you have to offer an organization and find a place to do it.

  • Be practical. If getting to a volunteer job requires two buses or $10 in gas, your enthusiasm is going to lag. Don’t volunteer to be the early morning dog walker if you hit the snooze alarm six times every morning. Set yourself up for success. You want to able to follow through on your commitment.

  • Test the water. Not sure what you want to do? Look for special events that might need volunteers – road races, fundraisers, concerts, political rallies. Even if it’s a one-off, you might discover a cause you care about and learn how to get more involved.

  • Be proactive. If you pass the local senior center every day and notice it sponsors bingo on Thursdays, offer to help. Or if you’re tired of the boring emails from the community center, offer to help make the weekly update more appealing to teens.

  • Look around you. Notice an elderly neighbor who’s struggling to walk the dog or keep the yard up? Offer to do it. Sometimes community service begins right in your own neighborhood.

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