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You are NOT too young to volunteer!
Ways you can help, no matter how young you are

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If you are old enough to read this page, you are old enough to volunteer! But maybe it doesn't feel that way. Maybe you wanted to volunteer to help animals, for instance, but every animal shelter you call says, "Sorry, you must be 18 to volunteer here." So frustrating!

Animal shelters are bound by liability and risk to not allow people under 16, and sometimes even 18, to have contact with animals. That's really frustrating for people who really want to help dogs, cats, horses and other abandoned animals at their local shelters, but find that they are too young.

The same is true for other organizations, like hospitals, senior homes, homeless shelters and other organizations - most won't allow anyone under 16, even 18, to volunteer, because their insurance company won't allow such, or because they don't have things for children or young teens to do, or they don't have adequate supervision in place to keep young people safe.

Lucky for you, there ARE things you can do to volunteer, no matter your age!

Want to support your local animal shelters? Call your local humane societies, ASPCA chapters and animal shelters, and ask if your family and friends could:

  • Make appropriate food treats for dogs and cats at your home and drop them off at the shelter. You can find a variety of recipes to make treats for dogs and cats online. As you make these treats, talk together with your family and friends about the importance of appropriate nutrition for pets, the importance of having pets spayed and neutered, how adopting a dog, cat, bird, rabbit, or any pet means caring for that pet for the life of the pet (not just until you don't want to anymore), the challenges faced by animal shelters, etc.

  • Make appropriate bedding at your home for dogs and cats and drop them off at the shelter. You could use scrap materials gathered from your own home and that of neighbors. There are lots of suggestions for making your own dog and cat beds online. If you invite family and friends to help you, then talk together about the proper care of pets, how adopting a dog, cat, bird, rabbit, or any pet means caring for that pet for the life of the pet (not just until you don't want to anymore), the importance of having pets spayed and neutered, the challenges faced by animal shelters, etc.

  • Organize a dog and cat food and supply drive for the shelter. If there is a pet food pantry for low-income people, gather food for the pantry (note that this cannot be leftover, opened-bags of food; these have to be unopened packages of pet food). You could organie this drive at the start of summer, then again just before the holidays, and then again in the Spring.

  • Start educating yourself about the issue you feel strongly about. Find organizations that are addressing the issue and visit their web sites, and read them. Subscribe to their email newsletters, if they have such, and read them. If they have public events focused on learning about their work (rather than fundraising events), attend them. Your goal is to become knowledgeable about the issue.

  • If the shelter has an email newsletter, sign up for it. If they have a Facebook page, "like" it. Then use your status update on FaceBook, MySpace and any other online social networking site to talk about what the shelter is doing. It can be this simple:
    Our local animal shelter is looking for volunteers this Saturday to help at such-and-such event. If you are interested, call xxx-xxxx.

    This week's featured dog up for adoption is...

    The shelter's annual fundraising dinner is this weekend. Here's more information...

  • Turn your birthday party into a fundraiser for the shelter. Invite friends to your house and ask in your invitation that, in lieu of gifts, people make donations to a nonprofit organization addressing the cause you support.

  • Host a party, cookout or reception at your home, invite your friends (and encourage them to invite their friends), and show a film or documentary relating to the importance of spaying or neutering animals - the shelter can help you find such. In your invitation, note clearly that this is a fundraiser for a particular organization and that you will be asking for donations; do NOT wait until the party, cookout or reception to tell invitees that you have invited them there in order to ask for donations.

What about if you want to volunteer for an organization other than an animal shelter? Here are more ideas:
  • Pick a day for your family to go through your things and to pick things to donate to Goodwill. Talk as a family about what Goodwill does (Goodwill trains people to be able to work; their stores raise money for their programs, and provide a training ground for the people they are working with) and why their work is important. Encourage your friends to do the same.

  • Organize a food, clothing or book drive in your neighborhood or your community of faith. The items should be donated appropriately (to Goodwill, to the library, to a food pantry, etc. -- contact the organization for guidelines and permission BEFORE the drive).

  • Ask a parent to call the local hospital or senior center and to speak with the volunteering coordinator. Ask her if it would be okay for you (and your friends!) to make "have a great day!" cards for all the children in the pediatric unit or the seniors, how many you should make, and how you would deliver those to the hospital so that they get to the kids. Then spend a day with your friends making those cards and talking about what being in a hospital might be like.

  • Volunteer to support UNICEF. UNICEF's online Volunteer Center provides activity toolkits and speaker resources to help you and your family conduct awareness-building and fundraising activities in your community.

  • Call (or ask your parent to call) a local shelter for families, and ask if you could organize a children's book drive, so the shelter could have plenty of books for the children. If they say yes, then get permission at school to organize a children's book drive, asking people to donate new or gently-used books. Go through all of the donated books and make sure they really are children's books. An adult will need to take the books to the shelter. If you receive books that aren't for children, donate them to your local library or a senior center.

  • Start a home-based recycling and reuse program, where you and your family explore how to recycle things currently not accepted by your community's curbside recycling program. What about starting a compost pile? How will you reuse grocery plastic bags? Could you weave your plastic bags together into one very strong bag that lasts for many years, or any one of a number of other items (rugs, place mats, mug rests, ponchos, toys, laptop case, etc. -- anything that can be knitted or sewn) and sell them, with the money raised going to an environmental program? There are a number of web sites that have free patterns for these crafts and many others.

  • Look into Adopt a Soldier programs that allow you and your kids to send letters and items to soldiers. Plenty of info on the Internet, like Adopt a Soldier.

You can also contact nonprofits and community programs in your area to see what opportunities they might have. Call early - don't wait the week before or even the month before an event:
  • Does your neighborhood or city have a community garden? They may need help in early Spring to prepare the garden for growing season, or in the late fall to clean up after growing season.

  • Call your local state park and see if they have a children's program that combines education and volunteering.

  • Girl Scouts of the USA might be an option if you are a girl; troops engage in community service programs at least once a year.

  • Ask a parent if he or she would be willing to volunteer with Meals on Wheels and to take you along on meal deliveries if Meals on Wheels allows such (but you will probably have to stay in the car).

Want even more ideas? Family Volunteer (volunteering with your parents) offers even more options for you to volunteer!

If you feel mistreated as a volunteer, here is advice for volunteers on how to complain.

More advice

Learning to Give is a nonprofit organization that provides lessons and resources for teachers of students in kindergarten through high school to help them understand the importance of philanthropy, including volunteerism, and civic engagement. Learning to Give "educates youth about philanthropy, the civil society sector, and the importance of giving their time, talent and treasure for the common good (knowledge), equips youth by encouraging philanthropic behavior and experience (skills), and, empowers youth to take voluntary citizen action for the common good in their classrooms, lives and communities (behavior)."

Also see

2010-2017 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.


Suggested books:

Volunteering: The Ultimate Teen Guide (It Happened to Me)

The Busy Family's Guide to Volunteering: Doing Good Together

Doing Good Together: 101 Easy, Meaningful Service Projects for Families, Schools, and Communities

Engage Every Parent!: Encouraging Families to Sign On, Show Up, and Make a Difference

Volunteer Vacations: Short-Term Adventures That Will Benefit You and Others

Children as Volunteers: Preparing for Community Service

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2010-17 by Jayne Cravens, all rights reserved. No part of this material can be reproduced in print or in electronic form without express written permission by Jayne Cravens.

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