One of the great things about volunteering is that you're never too young to start.
- Step One: What do you like to do?
- Step Two: What do you care about??
- Step Three: What are you good at??
- Step Four: What would you like to learn?
- Step Five: Find a volunteer opportunity?
- Step Six: Decide where to volunteer
An enormous range of volunteer projects are perfect for a volunteer with energy, ideas, and a willingness to give — whatever their age!
If you're a young person looking for a great way to get involved in your community, here's an exercise designed to help you figure out what will be a good fit for you: to get started, all you'll need is a piece of paper, a pen or pencil, a computer, and your imagination:
Step One: What do you like to do?
Think about your favorite things to do. Do you like being outdoors, using a computer, walking dogs, painting, playing sports?
- Draw four columns on your paper (using three long lines down the page)
- In the first column, make a list of all the things you really enjoy doing.
Don't worry if none of them sound like volunteering yet...
Step Two: What do you care about?
Next, think about the things you really care about. Are you passionate about recycling? Health? Education? Taking care of animals?
Think about the types of topics that really hold your interest.
What is important to you? What kinds of things do you think need to change in the world to make it a better place?
If you were listening to the news, what stories would grab your attention?
Step Three: What are you good at?
Now think about the things you're good at.
Are you a talented artist? A great photographer? Skilled at math? Good with younger kids?
Step Four: What would you like to learn?
Have you always wanted to learn how to garden? Are you interested in writing or drawing? Do you want to explore possible jobs or careers (for example, if you love animals, maybe you've always wanted to learn more about what veterinarians do)?
Step Five: Find a volunteer opportunity!
Using your list, you're now ready to start looking for volunteer opportunities that combine your interests, talents, and goals.
Keeping in mind that you may not find a place to volunteer that incorporates everything on your list, try to find volunteer opportunities that combine at least a handful from each column.
Here are four great ways of doing this:
- Talk to people you already know. Talk to your parents, their friends, older siblings, your friends, teachers, and others you know and trust. Do they volunteer somewhere? Do they work somewhere that sounds interesting to you? If so, are there opportunities to volunteer there? Show them your list and brainstorm together on possible places to volunteer.
- Talk to an organization you're familiar with. Spend some time thinking of organizations you already know. For example, does your school, club, sports team, or faith community have volunteer opportunities that link up with your list?
- Talk to your local volunteer center. Many communities have a volunteer center that lists local volunteer opportunities. Check to see if your town has one and then see if they have volunteer opportunities listed online (see below for tips on searching) or visit their office with a parent or other trusted adult.
- Use the internet. Use Idealist or check out some other sites here.
A few tips for searching online:
- Make sure you have permission from your parent or guardian. Depending on your family's rules on using the internet, you may need permission to get started online. Of course, you can always search for opportunities with your parents; sometimes two minds and two sets of eyes really are better than one!
- Be specific as possible. When entering search keywords, use those that appear on your list. Sometimes sites use different names for similar categories; for example, if you're looking for opportunities to volunteer with a wildlife center, you may find them in categories like "conservation" or "animal welfare."
- Clarify confusing search results. If the search terms or categories you're finding don't make sense or you're not sure which ones to use, ask for help from a parent, sibling, or friend.
Step Six: Decide where to volunteer
Once you have found a few potential volunteer opportunities, you're ready to decide where to volunteer.
- Narrow your list of options. Take another look at your list. Which items on your list are most important to you? Which opportunities match the most items from your list? Narrow your list of possible volunteer opportunities down to two or three.
- Make sure the organizations accept volunteers your age. Some places may not be able to due to legal reasons or the nature of their work while others may have rules like needing permission from your parents.
- Consult with your parent or guardian. Chat with them about one or two volunteer opportunities and then give the organizations a call or shoot them an email to ask for more information on the volunteer role, their organization, and what their process to get started looks like.
- Visit the organization. You might also find out if you and a parent or guardian can come visit an organization to learn more about what they do (not to mention see if it's the kind of place where you might want to get involved.)
- Commit! If after all of this you think it might be a good volunteer opportunity for you, and a parent agrees, you're ready to get started!
Here are a few more links to check out on volunteering as a young person:
- Voices of Youth – UNICEF
- Volunteering: Why Should I Do It? – PBS Kids
- VolunteeringWorks! – Volunteer Canada
- Young volunteers – World Volunteer Web
- Youth Service America