For many kids, the fast-approaching lazy days of summer represent freedom from school, learning and responsibility. But for teens, summer vacation also represents an opportunity to explore new interests, gain real-world skills and forge important connections that will help them as they transition into adulthood.
Summer is the perfect time for teens to consider volunteering. According to Simone Bernstein, co-founder of the online database of teen volunteer opportunities, volunteennation.org, one of the best ways for middle and high school students to obtain crucial skills and contacts is through volunteer work.
“Volunteering offers teens a way to give back to their community,” says Bernstein, “while also gaining communication skills, along with an opportunity to network and acquire references for future employment, scholarships and post-secondary applications.”
Volunteering - whether to fulfill community service requirements or to help a favorite cause - can open up a world of new experiences for teens, as well as foster creativity, innovation and a positive work ethic. Plus, it’s a chance to make new friends and have fun.
Here’s how your teen can volunteer their time and talents this summer:
Keep it local
Volunteer opportunities are everywhere in your community; you just need to know where to look.
These non-profit and community organizations often rely on the work of youth volunteers to carry out their mission:
Teen volunteer opportunities can also be found with local branches of well-known national organizations like The Red Cross, The Humane Society and the YMCA.
Be a virtual volunteer
Not every teen has a car or a driver’s licence, but this doesn’t have to prevent them from making a difference. For those without reliable transportation, Bernstein suggests offering to assist an organization through virtual volunteering. “Since teens have a comfort level with technology,” she advises, “they can offer to promote a non-profit through social media tools like Twitter and Facebook from their own computer.”
Spend the summer at camp
With so many camps offered during the summer months, teen camp counselors are in high demand. Camp counselors must be willing to serve as positive role models for younger campers, and as such, will develop both teamwork and leadership skills. In many cases, camp counselors also make friends and memories that will last a lifetime.
A wide variety of half-day, full-day and sleep-away camps are offered in cities across the country. And since you can find camps with just about any focus imaginable, from sports and science to academics and the arts, it’s easy to find one that fits your teen’s schedule and interests.
Take a trip
For teens interested in making a difference on a global level, there are international volunteer programs specifically designed with youth in mind. Cross-Cultural Solutions, crossculturalsolutions.org, for example, integrates volunteer work with cultural learning experiences and adventure activities in countries like India, Guatemala and Brazil. Not sure how you feel about sending your teen abroad without parental supervision? They even give you the option to make it a family affair.
Create your own opportunities
Teens don’t have to work within an existing program or organization to volunteer. In fact, some of the most rewarding volunteer work is the work you create for yourself. Innovative teens with problems they hope to solve create their own volunteer opportunities every day. They can tutor a friend who struggles during the school year. Spend one afternoon a week visiting with residents of an assisted living facility. Babysit for a family in need at no cost.
No matter what kind of volunteer work your teen chooses, volunteering remains one of the best ways for teens to identify their individual talents and passions, and lay the foundation for a fulfilling and successful future.
Younger kids can volunteer too
It’s never too early to begin volunteering, but official volunteer opportunities are often limited for younger children due to safety, security and liability concerns.
Fortunately, there are still plenty of small - but no less important - ways for kids of all ages to spend their summer making a difference:
Alyssa is a freelance journalist, and mother of two.
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