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Dec 08 2009

A Volunteer Guide Compliments of

What is volunteering?

Asking, “What is volunteering?” is like asking, “What’s a sport?” There are some basic similarities between all sports (they all have some rules, they all involve physical activity), but most sports are very different from each other. Just think about the differences between soccer and ice hockey. Volunteering is similar—there are thousands of examples of volunteer opportunities. The one basic similarity among all volunteer opportunities is this: volunteering involves you offering to give, or volunteer, some of your free time and skills to help your community. You can define your community any way you like- your neighborhood, your town, your country, or even the global community.

Why volunteer?

Almost every organization lacks the resources—both financial and human—to accomplish everything they’d like to do. Having volunteers helps them get closer to achieving their goals. When you volunteer, someone or a whole bunch of someones benefit from your participation- an old person you visit in the retirement home, the over grown hiking trail that you help to clear, the campaign you’re working on to save the rainforests, or the student that you are helping to learn how to read. Helping others also feels good and gives you a broader perspective on what’s happening in the world around you. Finally, volunteering gives you experience that schools and employers like to see on resumes.

What’s involved in volunteering?

The most important part of volunteering is your commitment. Whether it’s an hour once a year helping with a cleanup project, or mentoring two hours a week, when you commit to a project, you should be confident that you can make the commitment. This is important because, although you’re volunteering your time, people are relying on you, and your not showing up effects them as well.

Beyond commitment, the sky is really the limit in terms of what is involved in volunteering. Think about what interests you or check out the listings on Idealist to see what’s out there. You can read to first graders, visit people in a retirement home, work in a village in Guatemala, weed a community garden, design Web sites, or start your own project to help your community.

What kinds of volunteer opportunities are available- and how much time does it take?

One day projects or events: Examples of one day events are Earth Day, where communities around the world volunteer to clean up their communities, and Global Youth Service Day, where kids choose projects to work on in their communities. However, most one-day projects or events are usually more locally focused. They bring a group of people together to do something that will benefit the community, such as cleaning up a park. There is no commitment required beyond that specific day.

On-going volunteer opportunities
Many organizations offer on-going volunteer opportunities where you agree to be at a certain place, doing a specific thing for a set time each week or month. Examples are tutoring twice a week, working at a shelter once a month and answering a hotline a couple of evenings a week. Keep in mind that when you agree to volunteer on a regular basis, people are counting on you. Make sure that you have the time and the interest to commit.

Volunteering outside of your town or country: Usually for kids 14 and older, these are opportunities where you can spend weeks or months volunteering in a community beyond your own- this can be either during the summer vacations, after graduation or during school breaks. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked to pay for your travel expenses.

Service learning: Service learning may involve getting academic credit for volunteering in your community. Many schools have established programs with local organizations to provide opportunities for service learning projects for their students.

How old do you have to be to volunteer?

If you’re reading this, you’re old enough to volunteer. That said, there are volunteer opportunities designed for some ages and not others. For example, most volunteer abroad programs are offered to people 16 years or older. If you’re in elementary school or middle school, you should probably talk to your parents or teacher about places you might be able to volunteer.

More and more organizations are including volunteer opportunities for kids and teens, and if an organization that you are interested in doesn’t have anything listed, you should contact them anyway and see if between the both of you, you can figure out a way to get involved with the organization.

How / where can I find a volunteer opportunity

Check out this section of our Volunteer Center to learn ways to find the perfect volunteer opportunity.

Or, if you’re not sure what you want to do, you should look into volunteer organizations. Their sole purpose is to help kids get involved in volunteering and helping their community. Browsing through these sites will give you an idea of what’s out there.

Avoid burnout

If you find that you are losing interest in the opportunity, or it isn’t turning out to be what you thought it was, or if you have any other issues, don’t hesitate to discuss your thoughts with your volunteer coordinator. Remember that you are volunteering because you want to and you should be enjoying the work. If you’re not, in the long run that’s not going to help anybody- you’ll be unhappy and the people you’re working with will probably feel it, and that’s not good. If you’re not interested in the volunteer opportunity, arrange with your volunteer coordinator to either take a break, or to stop and try something different- there’s so much out there to try.

See a problem in your community that you think you have a solution for?

If you’ve noticed a problem in your community and you think you have a solution for it- great! How about starting your own project to turn that idea into action? Remember that every organization that exists today was somebody’s idea. There are millions of organizations around the world, millions of ideas in action. Why not give yours a try?

Click here to see organizations started by kids who put their ideas into action and resources to help you get started on your own project.

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