How Volunteer Work for Teens Works

Volunteers cleaning out pond.
Many charitable organizations in the United States will gladly accept help from teenagers.
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Watching the news can be so depressing. There seems to be an endless parade of problems -- people in trouble, people in pain, diseases spreading unchecked, political strife, natural disasters. Isn't there anything you can do about it?

In fact, there is: You can volunteer. And anyone can lend a hand, not only adults - many charitable organizations in the United States will gladly accept help from teenagers.


Volunteering means giving your time to a cause. It allows you to work directly for something you're passionate about. It can help you improve lives in your community and, sometimes, reshape the community itself.

Volunteer work is unpaid work for a charitable organization. To be an official, federally recognized charitable organization, a group must have 501(c)(3) federal not-for-profit status -- but plenty of new organizations might not have this yet, and plenty of volunteer programs operate on a less formal basis.

Nonprofit organizations depend on volunteers for many tasks. Volunteers might stock food-pantry donations or help sort clothing donations. They might stuff envelopes to let the organization's clients and supporters know about upcoming programs. They might work directly with the organization's clients -- offering tutoring or training to people who are trying to better themselves, providing emotional support to people in difficult circumstances, or simply helping with day-to-day activities. Volunteers might staff telephone lines, run copies or update Web sites at a nonprofit's office. Volunteers might help clean up, set up or decorate the facilities for a nonprofit's big fund-raising event.

Doing volunteer work might involve a single day or a weekend. It might demand an hour or two, one or two nights a week. It might involve an entire summer of full-time work. It all depends on which program you choose, and how much of your time you want to give.

In this article, we'll take a look at teen volunteer programs, as well as the immense benefits of volunteering as a teen.


Teen Volunteer Programs

There are thousands of nonprofits in the United States, and many will happily allow teen volunteers. One way to find an appropriate program is simply to call a charity in which you're interested. They almost certainly have some task with which you can help.

You may not need to look any further than your local church. Many churches offer soup kitchens, community cleanup days, community education, support groups and other outreach programs. Similarly, your school or hospital probably have programs that could use an extra set of hands. If you're new to volunteering, such programs can provide a way to ease into volunteer work in a familiar setting.


If you're not sure which nonprofit to talk to, think about the areas in which you want to make a difference. Popular choices include animal welfare, hunger and poverty relief, education, environmentalism, work fighting discrimination and prejudice, human rights, disease outreach and education, disaster relief and politics. The organization Do Something classifies teen volunteer programs by area of social change -- you can likely find a program near you [source: Do Something].

Another option is to talk to local arts nonprofits. Many orchestras, choirs and theater companies operate as 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, and they almost always have extra work to do. They may not have a volunteer program in place (although some larger organizations do), but they could offer internships that work much the same way. You'll likely be able to learn about how nonprofit organizations work -- and you may get to see some wonderful art.

Finally, if you can't find an organization that matches what you want to do, try starting your own! Round up a few like-minded friends, research the problem you want to solve and take action. Web sites such as Idealist offer extensive information on starting a volunteer program, including online discussion groups for teens [source: Idealist]. Do Something is one of many programs that offer grants to teen start-up organizations [source: Do Something].

On the next page, we'll explore some of the benefits of volunteer work.


Benefits of Volunteering as a Teen

The benefits of volunteer work -- for anyone, of any age -- are virtually endless. Volunteer work expands your understanding of other people's lives. It gives you a new view of the world and the problems within it; it also shows you how hard people will work to solve those problems. There's no better cure for the blues than helping someone who's worse off than you are. It seems paradoxical, but volunteer work amid the most severe social problems can often be an abiding source of personal hope.

For teenagers, volunteering has additional bonuses. It looks fantastic on college applications, and sometimes it even makes you eligible for certain scholarship assistance or financial aid. Repeated or dedicated volunteer work demonstrates that you're not simply participating in the activity for the sake of strengthening your application -- you actually care about changing the world. That's a testament to your character that no standardized test score can duplicate.


Volunteering also strengthens your résumé. It often teaches you new skills. You might learn a new language or a new computer program. You'll almost certainly learn some interpersonal skills, and you may get some on-the-ground training in how an office functions day to day. After volunteering, you can apply for jobs with some demonstrable hands-on experience.

Volunteering also gives you an opportunity to meet people you might not encounter otherwise, and to expand your social group beyond the walls of your school. Volunteering tends to bring like-minded people together, and many people forge lifelong friendships in volunteer organizations.

Of course, the best benefit of volunteering is the knowledge that you've made a difference in your community. Is there ever a better feeling than knowing you've changed the world for the better?

To learn more, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • ABC News. "Teen Volunteer Is a Community Leader." ABC. January 19, 2007. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • Do Something. "What's Your Thing?" Do Something. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • Fife, Jim. "Volunteering: Change Your World." Volunteer Center of Rhode Island/United Way of York County. 2003. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • Friedman, Susan. "10 Great Volunteer Ideas for Teens." Family Education. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • Idealist. Teen Volunteer Programs. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • Lo, Justin. "On Being a Teen Volunteer." Journal of Palliative Medicine. March 2001. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • Strouth, Gene. "Two volunteers will be missed at Teen Court." Wichita Falls Times Record News. July 5, 2008. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • Transitions Abroad. "High School Volunteer Opportunities." 2009. (Accessed 5/11/09)
  • United Way. Teen Volunteer Opportunities. (Accessed 5/11/09)