By Hannah Tran
A few years ago, I oversaw the volunteers who assisted with the recycling and composting at the Philadelphia Science Festival. Here, I met my youngest volunteer to date: a three-year-old. He came with his entire family, who told me they wanted to expose him to service and green practices as early as possible.
I highlight this story because I believe service can be integrated at a young age. While I haven’t encountered many toddler volunteers, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many youth volunteers. Young volunteers are awesome: they’re curious, energetic, fun and fast learners.
The tween years are especially perfect for volunteering. Tweens are navigating greater responsibilities and expectations while also beginning to explore their own interests and viewpoints. Volunteering allows tweens to contribute back to their communities while also forging a stronger sense of self.
Unless there’s a specific age restriction, tweens can get involved in most volunteer opportunities. Adult supervision is usually required, but the more the merrier. Popular volunteer opportunities among tweens include park cleanups, assembling runners’ bags for major race events, organizing a supply drive for a school or shelter, decorating bulletin boards at senior and recreation centers, and preparing meals for a church or food bank.
Whether your tween is fulfilling a school community service requirement, seeking a cause to support, exploring new ideas, or hoping to make new connections, volunteering builds an incredible foundation far beyond the service project.
Volunteering has a host of benefits for tweens, including:
• greater empathy
• increased self-confidence
• decreased anxiety and stress
• exposure to different environments and perspectives
• stronger sense of purpose
• development of responsibility
• opportunities to spend quality time together
• and of course, fun!
The best part of volunteering is that there is no singular approach or experience. Whether you want to work behind the scenes making phone calls or engaging in hands-on beautification projects, volunteering guarantees that there is an experience for most everyone. As you think about possible volunteering opportunities, consider these questions with your tween volunteer:
• Community Needs – Which community needs would you like to address? Ask your tween what they are learning in school or on the news that piques their interest. Or take a walk around the city and various neighborhoods to inspire conversations about community needs.
• Time Commitment – Consider your family schedule. How much time do you have? Do you want to volunteer one-time, regularly, or a mixture of both? Park cleanups and events are great one-time opportunities while a food security program may need ongoing support.
• Personal Interests – What interests you? Gather a list of passions and hobbies. Animal lovers might volunteer at animal shelters or collect items for donation. Book lovers can sort books and help organize a local school’s library.
• The more the merrier! – Who should come along? Volunteering is more fun with others so think about family, classmates, friends, and neighbors who’d like to join the service action.
• New Skills – Is there something you want to learn or know more about? Service is a fantastic platform to cultivate new skills and gain knowledge. If your tween is interested in exploring careers, volunteering can offer a hands-on look at different jobs and work environments.
Most importantly, involving your tween in the planning process increases the likelihood that they will be excited and invested in volunteering, too.
Serve Philadelphia – The City of Philadelphia has made service one of its major priorities. Check out Serve Philadelphia to search city government’s massive database of volunteer opportunities throughout the Philadelphia region. You can filter by cause, age, location, and more. http://www.serve.phila.gov
Make Direct Contact – If you have a specific cause or organization in mind, don’t be shy! Call or email directly and inquire if they have a need for volunteer support. Organizations are thrilled to hear from prospective volunteers and eager to accommodate excited helpers. Just make sure that the organization is able and comfortable working with tween-age volunteers.
Serve Seasonally – You’ve heard of eating seasonally, and the same applies to service. Some opportunities are seasonal and occur at the same time each year. For example, Philadelphia’s Love Your Park events typically take place in the fall and the citywide Spring Cleanup occurs in March-April. Winter holidays typically bring a need for food sorting and delivery as well as donation collections. The summer brings many events, camps, and community gardens that depend on volunteers for support.
Stay Connected – Make a list of local organizations whose missions you’d like to support. Then, follow them on their social media platforms as well as e-newsletters. Not only does this digital connection allow you to remain updated on that organization’s needs, but these are also spaces within which calls for volunteers are often posted.
Take the Lead – Don’t see a match? Looking for something a bit more tailored to your abilities and schedule? You and your tween can also organize your own service project. Whether it’s a block cleanup, a fundraiser for a specific charity, or a donations collection drive, you can design a volunteer experience that works just for you.
Hannah Tran started volunteering as a teenager and then went on to complete three terms of service with AmeriCorps. She has managed large-scale volunteer events with the City of Philadelphia and the 2016 Democratic National Convention