Give direction to bored kids by offering character-building volunteer opportunities.
Kids can’t wait to get out of school in May. They imagine the joy of lazy days without schedules or homework. But after a few weeks, boredom and discontent set in, and parents are plagued with the complaint, “There’s nothing to do.” This is an especially vexing problem for children too old for day camp but too young for paying jobs.
Instead of passing dull summer days plopped in front of the TV, children can use those extra hours to explore new opportunities and give back to their community through volunteering. Volunteering helps kids become comfortable in the adult work world, encourages an understanding of different areas of the community and gives them a feeling of responsibility, self-esteem and accomplishment that is separate from achievements in school or sports.
For teens, volunteer work looks good on college applications. Many high schools require community service for graduation. In addition, most youth volunteer programs are designed for kids to have fun while meeting other kids from different schools.
Before You Call
Hundreds of youth volunteer opportunities exist in any size community. As with adults, what kids get out of the experience depends largely on the time, effort and commitment they make. Choosing commitments wisely will increase the chances of a positive experience both for the child and the people they serve.
Volunteering is not free child care or a way to keep from paying for summer camp. Parents need to feel confident that their child is mature enough to handle a volunteer commitment before they get the child excited about serving.
Generally, the older the child, the more options that are open to her. Few organizations use children younger than 13. Parents of younger children who want them to experience the benefits of volunteering should look for situations where they can volunteer with the child or for special family day projects.
Before rushing to the telephone to start calling organizations, you and your child should discuss what it means to volunteer. “Parents of younger children, those who can’t drive themselves, need to realize that a child’s commitment to volunteer is also a commitment for the parent,” says Nicole Ozer, a youth volunteer director. “If they are going to depend on you for transportation, their volunteering is going to impact your time.”
Help your child determine a realistic number of hours that he can serve. “The number of hours is less important than following through on the commitment, showing up on time when you are expected and having a good attitude,” says Susie Hodges, a youth program manager. Planned absences for family vacations usually aren’t a problem, but the agency needs to know about them in advance.
Finding a Match
There are many ways to find out about volunteer opportunities. Most larger communities maintain registers of organizations needing volunteers. Check with your city or county government. Religious institutions or high school guidance counselors also can offer suggestions for volunteering. Another easy place to get an overview of what is available is the Internet.
After families review the information, children can make an appointment for a meeting with the volunteer coordinator of an organization to help define opportunities that best fit the child’s age and interests. Parents can attend this session, but should let the child ask the questions and do most of the talking.
Making the Call
Some prime volunteer internships such as those at the zoo or a radio station fill up fast. Students interested in these opportunities should start calling about them early on. Less exotic opportunities in libraries, hospitals, nursing homes, tutoring programs and day camps fill more slowly, but by May kids should be on their way to exploring the possibilities.
The initial call to an agency can make or break your child’s chance to volunteer there. “I know programs where they automatically eliminate the child if the parent calls,” says Susie Hodges. “They figure if the kid isn’t mature enough to call herself, then she isn’t mature enough for their program.” Starting the conversation with, “My school says I have to do [some number] hours of community service to graduate” is another turn off.
Agencies are concerned that they will spend time to train students only to have them quit as soon as they fulfill the requirement. “The world is a lot nicer in nonprofit organizations than it is in junior high and high school,” says Nicole Ozer. “Kids who volunteer are more accepting, and volunteering is a good way to meet new people who go to different schools and to get a feel for what the adult world is like.”
Tish Davidson is a freelance writer.
Community Services Directory • vucsdirectory.org
This website allows you to enter your zip code, an organization name or your area of interest to find opportunities most suitable for you.
Hands on Nashville • 298-1108 ext. 107 or hon.org
Find out about volunteer opportunities for youth through the Hands on Nashville annual guide (available online), or call for volunteer referrals throughout the community.
Volunteer Match • volunteermatch.org
This website allows you to enter your zip code and view all upcoming and ongoing projects throughout the entire region.
Youth Service America • ysa.org
This organization seeks to increase the quality and quantity of volunteer opportunities for youth. Not only does the organization sponsor an annual Youth Service Day, its website also includes service project ideas and resources for youth.