Super Volunteering Opportunities Around Puget Sound for Tweens and Teens
From animal care to trail-building to radio work, fun ways kids can give back
One of the best things a teen can decide to do for herself is to work to help others. The benefits are legion. A variety of studies indicate that teens who volunteer are happier, less susceptible to bad habits, and more aware of events in their communities, and more likely to finish college. What’s more, they’re more likely to make volunteering a lifetime habit.
And yes, a record of community service looks pretty nice on a resume or college application.
Where do you look to get your teen involved? There are programs in every community, catering to all kinds of interests.
For Anne Lee, 14, it was animals. Lee, who lives in Sammamish and is a freshman at Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, had always wanted to help out in an animal shelter, but most only take older teens. When she was in seventh grade, she found out about Seattle Humane Society’s Humane Teen Club, and applied to join it. She went to Seattle Humane’s shelter in Bellevue twice a month through her eighth grade school year.
She had been ready to do basic tasks, such as cleaning out cages, but found the program went far beyond that. She learned a lot about animal welfare and the working of the shelter, was able to play with animals and worked in a successful dog-food drive. She made great friends, and she is spending this year volunteering in the shelter’s veterinary clinic.
“I get to see cool things, like surgery,” she says.
Leela Sarukkai, 14, a freshman at Bellevue’s Interlake High School, did the Humane Teen Club program last year and still volunteers at the shelter. She says she always feels good after a shift.
“It’s a time when I feel like I’ve actually helped out,” she says.
Seattle Humane Society has been running the program since 2003. Jenna Pringle, Seattle Humane’s marketing and communications manager, says that when teens join the program they are often amazed at the impact that they can have using social media to promote animal welfare.
“They’re shocked that just by connecting with their friends and sending photos they can make things happen.”
How to find teen volunteering opportunities
Whether it’s caring for the environment, reading to kids, building trails or fixing up parks, there’s a way for teens to volunteer.
A good place to start looking for volunteer opportunities is Jackie’s Volunteer Network, a site compiled by a Tacoma teen, Jackie Yeh, in the summer before she started 10th grade at Charles Wright Academy. It is an excellent compilation of service organizations seeking teen volunteers in Tacoma, Seattle and surrounding areas, with information about some 37 different organizations. Find many more ideas in this article on volunteer resources.
Here are some examples of organizations where teens can volunteer.
To volunteer at the Seattle Humane Society’s shelter in Bellevue, teens need to spend a school year in the Humane Teen Club. About 20 teens, ages 13 through 17, spend two Saturdays each month visiting the shelter, helping out and learning about its workings and about animal welfare issues. When they have completed the program, they can volunteer in other capacities in the shelter.
Volunteering info: Applications are due in June for the program, which runs through the school year. Find information online.
This land conservation and stewardship organization has partnerships with Seattle, Tacoma, Kirkland, Redmond, Kent and Everett to restore urban natural areas, remove invasive plants and build communities to care for wild spaces in the future. The events section of their website announces habitat restoration work parties all over the region. Parents or guardians need to sign waivers to allow youth under 18 to participate, unless, of course, the parents come along to the work party too.
Where: Seattle, Tacoma, Kirkland, Redmond, Kent and Everett.
Volunteering info: Find online at forterra.org/get_involved/volunteer.
This organization distributes supplies to food banks, meal programs and high-need schools all over the state. It relies heavily on volunteers in its food bank on Cherry Street in Seattle and in its warehouse in Kent. Starting in third grade, kids can volunteer alongside an adult chaperone. Teens aged 16 and 17 can volunteer without a chaperone, as long as they get a signed consent form from their parent or guardian.
Where: Seattle, Kent
Volunteering info: northwestharvest.org/volunteer-faqs
All volunteers at Teen Link start out as outreach workers, working in their schools and communities. Teens aged 13 and up can sign up. After a six-month stint as outreach workers, teens aged 15 and up can train to volunteer on Teen Link’s confidential phone line, which is open from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every evening. They’re there to listen and offer resources to help teens with whatever problems they might have. Other positions include youth suicide prevention educators who pair up with adult trainers to give presentations in schools.
Where: King County
Volunteering info: 866teenlink.org/volunteer/youth-ages-13-20
Some 800 kids and teens did trail work for this statewide organization in 2014, learning teamwork, leadership and environmental smarts as they went. Kids 10 and up are welcome to participate in work-parties with their families, though if they are under 14, they need to have chaperones. Those who are 14–18 can also participate in weeklong volunteer vacations, camping in the wilderness as they work. WTA does charge a fee to participate in these trips. (For non-members it’s $245 for the first trip of the year and $155 for each additional trip.) There are some scholarships.
Note: For the best chance of a spot in one of these vacations in the summer, you should have applied by Feb. 17, but if you missed the deadline, it’s not too late. See the FAQs.
Volunteering info: wta.org/volunteer/youth
Starting in the summer before eighth grade, teens can volunteer as counselors in training at Camp Fire’s summer day camps in Seattle, Bothell, Issaquah, Maple Valley, Auburn, Vashon Island and Kent. As they get older, they can fill different functions, and start volunteering at Camp Fire’s sleep-away camp: Camp Sealth. There is a fee to participate.
Where: Seattle, Bothell, Issaquah, Maple Valley, Auburn, Vashon Island, Kent
Volunteering info: For specifics call 206-461-8550 or for more information, click here.
Volunteers help this hugely popular Seattle community radio station and arts organization function. They work the front desk, help out with fundraising drives, do hospitality for bands, take pictures and videos and spread the word about the station. Minimum age is 15 to volunteer.
Volunteer info: Find at shiftboard.com/kexp
This organization is dedicated to restoring South Puget Sound’s urban streams, starting with Puget Creek, a salmon-bearing stream that skirts Old Tacoma as it flows into Commencement Bay. It runs work parties in the morning of the second Saturday of every month and offers internships for high school and college students.
Volunteer info: Find at pugetcreek.org/volunteer.html
The inspiring organization provides lessons in outdoor recreation for children and adults with physical, developmental and sensory disabilities. It runs winter programs at Stevens Pass and the Summit at Snoqualmie as well as day camps in Seattle and the Eastside, and relies on trained volunteers. Teens aged 13 and up can volunteer at the day camps. In the mountain programs, teens ages 13 to 15 can help out as cadet instructors and youth aged 16 and over can volunteer in other ways. For example, they could be instructors, chaperones or help with race crews.
This fast-growing national organization hosts an ever-increasing number of national campaigns – all involving relatively simple local actions. Youth ages 13 to 25 are eligible to participate. Some examples of campaigns: make birthday cards for homeless children, run a dress drive at school so all kids can go to the prom, bug your dad to get his blood pressure checked, start a banned book club, host a workshop teaching teens safe Internet practices, or distribute “thumb socks” to keep people from texting and driving. Teens sign up for campaigns and then send in pictures of their work to be eligible for a $10,000 scholarship.