The slowly-recovering economy has been especially hard on teens who count on minimum wage jobs to cover expenses and provide experience. The jobs are fewer, and adults who can’t find employment have stepped in to work positions traditionally held by teens.
While it won’t bring in spending money, volunteering can be a great way to gain valuable work experience, give back to the community, and get out of the house. April is National Volunteer Month—an excellent time to get your teens involved in the community. Many organizations have special volunteering opportunities, especially in observance of Global Youth Service Day, held this year on April 20-22, 2012.
Volunteering has many benefits including helping worthwhile cause, providing memorable family time, and offering a great opportunity to meet new people. Studies show that teens who volunteer do better academically, too. As an added plus, volunteer experience is beneficial for college and scholarship applications. And occasionally volunteer work can turn into a paid job, as your teen proves his capacity and commitment.
Your teen probably has some causes she feels passionate about—global warming, women’s rights, animal welfare. Maybe he has a hobby he can incorporate in service, like playing an instrument or photography. Perhaps your teen is interested in a career path like legal work or medicine. Volunteering is a great way to channel energy, and if parents join in, it gives you a chance to share something with your teen—an opportunity that can be scarce in the teen years. It also exposes teens to potential career choices.
Finding volunteer work should start with helping your teen identify a cause to support. Some quick research on the Internet will lead to like-minded organizations that need help. Maybe your teen loves animals. The local pet shelters may need help, but there may be some other organizations like greyhound rescue and rehabilitation. Or maybe there is an organization that helps the elderly walk their pets. Some families make a “vacation” out of it, choosing a volunteer cause in another city or country, or they volunteer together over a school break. You can be very creative when it comes to volunteering.
If your teen seems less than enthused about researching causes, start with an organization that makes the case for volunteering in a more “hip” way than you can. Sites like DoSomething.org and YSA.org (Youth Service America) are designed specifically to engage teens with nonprofits, and they also offer resources to create projects of their own. Many adult volunteers look back to getting hooked on volunteering in their teens, often recalling that they started small by helping out one time, like at a special event.
It’s better to give than to receive and volunteering may be just what the doctor ordered to get your teen’s focus off of themselves and onto others. And, who knows, maybe it will lead to job, scholarship or even a career.
Patti Skelton-McGougan is Executive Director of Youth Eastside Services (YES). YES is a nonprofit organization and a leading provider of youth counseling and substance abuse services in the region. Since 1968, YES has been a lifeline for kids and families, offering treatment, education and prevention services to help youth become healthy, confident and self-reliant and families to be strong, supportive and loving. While YES accepts insurance, Medicaid and offers a sliding scale, no one is turned away for inability to pay. For more information, visit YouthEastsideServices.org.