5 Reasons to Volunteer

Clay Hurdle, is a high school senior in Valdosta, Georgia, volunteers by reading Dr. Seuss to children.

COURTESY OF CLAY HURDLE

Volunteering helps you…

1. Feel good about yourself. One of the intrinsic benefits of volunteering comes in the way you feel about yourself. Doing good builds confidence and self-esteem because you know you are doing the right thing.

That’s one reason that Mimi Ausland volunteers. A high school freshman in Bend, Oregon, she has been helping animals since she was 9. She started volunteering at a local shelter, walking dogs and cleaning out cat-litter boxes. “I love animals a ton, and I knew the shelter could use as much help as they could get,” Mimi says.

From there, she started her own web site called freekibble.com. A daily animal-trivia question appears on the site. Every time someone answers—right or wrong—10 pieces of kibble are donated to animal shelters. That may not seem like a lot, but so far the site has donated more than 5 million meals to homeless animals!

“The most rewarding part is knowing that all of these dogs and cats are getting nutritious meals every day while they wait for their forever homes,” Mimi says.

2. Reduce stress. At least once a month, Jeffrey Lui, a high school junior from Whippany, New Jersey, volunteers at an after-school program for children with autism, a serious brain disorder that hampers a person’s ability to communicate and socialize. Jeffrey sings songs and plays games with the children.

Not only do the kids learn important social skills from his example, but it’s also a great stress reliever for Jeffrey and other teens who volunteer at the program. Taking a break from the usual grind of schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and chores to do something that’s beneficial to others can improve your mood and keep life in proper perspective.

3. Get creative. Chris Caruso is executive director of generationOn, a global youth-service movement launched by the Points of Light Institute. He says that the link between young people and service is natural because of one important word: creativity. “Teens are naturally creative,” Caruso says. “They’re looking for ways to express themselves in their communities—whether it’s their school, their block, or more broadly their city, country, or world.”

When you get involved in your school and community, you can start to identify local problems. Often these situations do not have easy, one-step solutions. They require outside-the-box thinking to come up with long-term remedies. When you brainstorm and implement creative solutions, you witness first-hand the impact your ideas can have. “You see your voice matters,” Caruso says.

4. Make new friends. Most high schools and community organizations offer a variety of service opportunities—from cleaning up wetlands to working at soup kitchens. When you get behind one of these causes, you meet people with similar interests. Oftentimes, these are people you may not have met in your regular school life. Clay Hurdle, is a high school senior in Valdosta, Georgia, who volunteers to collect and distributes goods to less fortunate families for the Second Harvest Food Bank. He found this out when he volunteered for his local 4-H club. “I’ve made many friends through 4-H—a lot of great memories,” he says.

5. Become well-rounded. It’s no secret that colleges are looking for well-rounded applicants. But community service should be more than an activity to list on your college application. Volunteering can guide you to a specific college major or career path. Not sure if you want to become a teacher? Try volunteering at a school. Interested in becoming a doctor or nurse? Spend time helping out at a hospital or nursing home. Getting a taste of different careers and experiences will help you become a well-rounded person and make informed life decisions. Your community-service experience can serve as great training and may even help you land a job in the future.

Clay says volunteering has taught him some specific college and career skills as well. For example, Clay has had to speak in front of groups of people. “It has helped me with presenting and public speaking,” he says. “It has taught me life skills that I’m never going to forget.”

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