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How to Help High School Freshmen Find a Volunteer Project
Volunteer or service work is an important element of many students’ high school years. Not only is it of interest to college admissions committees, but also it allows students to make a difference in their own community while building self-esteem and confidence. Volunteering is a smart choice for high school extracurriculars.
This being said, some high school freshmen may find it difficult to get involved with volunteer work. Sometimes there are age restrictions in place or transportation logistics that get in the way. Finding a volunteer opportunity may seem at first difficult, if not impossible. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case. In this post we outline how to help your high school freshman find a volunteer project that will be both meaningful and lasting.
Why Consider A Volunteer Project?
Volunteering is an important form of civic engagement. It empowers students to identify issues they care about and to make a real difference in their communities. The recipients of these projects are often the most profoundly impacted, but they are not the only ones who benefit from service work.
Service work is an important element of a college application. It serves as evidence of empathy and kindness, both qualities that are of increasing importance with the growth of the Making Caring Common initiative out of Harvard University. Undertaken over an extended period, it can also exhibit dedication and commitment.
Finally, volunteering is good for you. The mental health site Help Guide notes that research links volunteer work with increased levels of happiness. It also works to reduce stress, connect people within a community, and can increase future career opportunities.
There’s no doubt that volunteering is a win-win. To get your teen started, consider these four simple steps:
1. Think About Causes That Your Teen Cares About
In order for a service project to be truly rewarding, it needs to be linked to a cause that’s actually important to your teen. Have him or her think about the issues that impact your world and community.
Teens might need a little help to jump start this thinking. You can support him or her by asking about the issues faced by his or her friends or other people your teen’s age. Watch the news together. Read the local paper or online community forums to get more ideas.
Encourage your teen to think about the things that he or she enjoys or is good at, and find issues that can be helped by those skills. For example, if your teen loves Internet technology, he or she might funnel that passion into teaching basic computer classes at a retirement home or homeless shelter.
2. Link The Causes Your Teen Cares About to Your Community
Next, think of ways to connect the causes that your teen cares about with your community directly. Some teens gets caught up in big, worldwide issues like poor access to medical care in third world countries or world hunger. These are likely fueled by the advertising of huge charity groups. While these causes are important, they are hard to impact from your hometown.
Encourage your teen to focus on the micro rather than the macro. For example, if your teen is concerned about access to medical care in third world countries, point out that there are people in your own community who struggle with this too. Get your teen thinking about issues that impact the communities that he or she is a part of to make the volunteer project even more meaningful.
3. Seek Existing Volunteer Organizations
In many cases, once your teen identities the issues that he or she cares about and focuses them on his or her community, you’ll be able to find an existing volunteer organization already in place. A little Internet sleuthing or old-fashioned phone calls might reveal that the perfect opportunity awaits your teen already.
If this is the case, you can further assist by helping your teen to come up with a volunteer schedule that works for your family. Keep your teen’s existing commitments in mind and remember that you will need to clear your schedule too, if he or she needs you to provide transportation. It’s alright for your teen to start his or her involvement at a lower level. This will allow him or her to try the opportunity out and make sure he or she likes it before committing more time and energy towards the cause. It will also allow plenty of room for growth in the future.
4. Help Your Teen to Create His or Her Own Opportunity
If there are no existing opportunities that seem to fit with your teen’s schedule, passions, and skills, you both will need to get creative to keep the momentum moving forward. This is the stage where many teens compromise and take on a less relevant project or something they’re less passionate about, because it is logistically easier. This is a tempting alternative, but by designing his or her own service project, your teen exhibits another level of commitment and the ability to take initiative, leading to an even more fulfilling experience.
Your teen can get started by networking with people who already have some involvement with the cause or issues he or she cares about. These could be teachers, family friends, coaches, or other mentors. It’s a great idea to ask around to see if anyone with a job linked to this cause could use some help. For example, if your teen wants to work with kids who don’t have access to quality after school programming, he or she might talk to an old elementary school teacher about the possibility of staying after school to read to kids once a week.
Your teen should also think about ways in which his or her existing skills and passions could be tweaked into an opportunity to give back. For example if he or she loves to create visual art, your teen might consider donating artwork to a local hospital or volunteering as a youth art instructor.
If your teen loves learning a foreign language, encourage him or her to think about volunteering at a local clinic or shelter where a large population of native speakers seek services. Or if your teen participates or recognizes an underfunded club or community initiative, he or she might volunteer to organize a fundraiser for it.
If you put your head to it, it’s possible to come up with a service angle for nearly any activity or interest, and it’s likely that you or your teen already has the right connections to find a way to get involved.
For more advice about service projects and how volunteer work impacts the college admissions process, consider the benefits of the CollegeVine Near Peer Mentorship Program, which provides access to practical advice on topics from course selection and extracurriculars to college applications and career aspirations, all from successful college students.