How to Help Your Teenager Find Great Volunteer Opportunities

As a mom, I want my teenagers to be community minded. I also know that to graduate high school, they need volunteer hours.

In my house, that has become a source of nagging at times. It also has become a source of frustration as my teens and I brainstorm volunteer options that fit with their interests and they dismiss all of my ideas.

So, I am thrilled that Jane Dabel has stepped up and offer suggestions. Jane is  professor and academic advisor at California State University in Long Beach, where she has been teaching for the past 17 years. She also write The College Guidebook  blog, which gives tips to parents about how to make the college application process stress free.

Here are Jane’s suggestions:


Volunteering Hacks: A Cheat Sheet for Helping Your Child Find Great Volunteering Opportunities


Volunteering is a fantastic extracurricular activity. It will not only give your child a great deal of satisfaction and self-respect to help people in need, but it’ll show them what it’s like to work in the real world: and hey, it might even lead to a scholarship or turn into a job opportunity someday!


But don’t encourage your child to volunteer for just any of cause. The “do what you love” rule applies here. For example, is your child totally into DIY projects? Maybe they could build a house with Habitat for Humanity. Are sweet furry creatures their thing? They might want to volunteer at a local animal shelter.

Volunteer Websites

If your child already knows a particular organization for which they’d like to volunteer, find their website and take a look. Most will have a page that provides contact and other general information and will be glad to hear from them. If your child is not quite that focused yet, here’s a list of websites that can help steer them in the right direction.

At Volunteer Match, your teens can search for volunteer openings in or near your town, for a specific age group or within a particular field. They’ll find listings from national and international nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and the Peace Corps, as well as openings at smaller agencies that are unique to your area—over 50,000 organizations in all! When they find a listing that interests them, just register and the site will send an email to the organization on their behalf.

Network for Good offers a similarly rich array of volunteer options, with some great extras: Teens can use their Volunteer Record of Service to track their volunteer hours and their thoughts on the experience. And a partnership with the United Nations allows them to do good from the comfort of their own home; if they participate in the Online Volunteering Service, they’ll be connected with one of the hundreds of organizations that need their help.

Idealist provides a massive trove of volunteer opportunities with an international bent.

This is a great site to check out openings for volunteer work at national parks, historic sites, and other public agencies.

Quality AND Quantity

Doing one walk in their senior year doesn’t say much about your teenager or her  passions. It also shows admissions officers that she doesn’t have a lot of enthusiasm or discipline.

When your teens find causes or activities they love, they should try to spend a significant amount of time dedicated to them. That means months or years of going to meetings, participating in events—doing whatever it takes for them to be really involved. Besides, the more time and effort they devote to an organization, the more it means that their responsibilities can increase. They might be put in charge of planning events instead of just going to them. Or they could become a team manager of a summer camp leader. That kind of experience will be really valuable as they move from high school to college, and then on to the real world. Plus, admissions officers will be really impressed.

Document Experiences

It’s important to keep a record of the time they spend volunteering—it can help them to apply for scholarships and jobs and maybe even to get school credit. They can do this in a notebook or journal if that’s most comfortable. Or if they prefer to keep an electronic record, a private blog or a basic word processing file is a simple way to keep their thoughts in one place. Their annotations can be very simple, like those below:



Sunrise Senior Living Home

June 2013-August 2013: five hours a week

Responsibilities included: general office tasks, lending a helping hand to busy nurses, and helping organize events like the Valentine’s Day dinner/dance, the Fourth of July picnic, and bingo nights.



New York Cares

January-December 2013

Participated In six urban renewal projects: painted murals, helped with a park cleanup, and attended fundraisers that included a bake sale, a basketball tournament, and a hip-hop dance competition.

More ways to document

Teens  also can track their hours at the Presidential Service Awards website.

This tracker will automatically add up hours, such as a weekly volunteer commitment, so it’s easy for the teens to see where they stand.

On top of counting hours and making a list of tasks, have your child consider keeping a record of the experience itself.

For example: What is volunteering like for them?  What do they see or experience that is new to them? How does it make them think differently about their own life? What do they most enjoy about it?

Thinking about their experience, and having a sense of how it affects them, will give them an edge when it comes time to talk about it with a potential boss, a teacher, or a college admissions counselor.

Volunteering instills a sense of social responsibility and community awareness, but it’s a lot easier when teenagers have some guidance on where and how to start.

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