Tis the season for giving back, expressing gratitude and helping others. But the spirit of volunteerism should not be limited to the holiday season. The Washington, DC area offers teens diverse opportunities to serve their community. Volunteerism provides a chance to explore a possible career, learn good work habits, meet new people, count their blessings, add unique experiences to their college application, and better understand how teamwork and civic engagement are integral to overcoming complex socio-economic problems.
Many schools establish a volunteer requirement for graduation. That means your school likely has a volunteer coordinator who can point students towards opportunities consistent with their interests. We encourage students to use that minimum requirement as a springboard to more sustained volunteerism. Think about committing deeply to a single service activity where you can learn while making a meaningful contribution rather than sprinkling service hours over a dozen activities.
More than giving back, working volunteer activities into your college application demonstrates a willingness to serve as universities seek out applicants who are likely to enhance the campus community. Annie Vinik, an educational consultant with Vinik EPS, offers the following advice, “Students should remember that for service to stand out, it needs to be meaningful. Colleges notice factors like the level of commitment and engagement students bring to their service, the impact of the project, and the student’s ability to reflect on what they’ve learned from the experience. Genuine service work that students seek out because they’re truly interested in making a difference can be transformative in so many ways.”
Below is a sampling of the many teen-friendly service opportunities in the DMV. Many programs, especially those that provide training and leadership potential, tend to be highly competitive, require an application and advanced planning. If you’re looking for a summer volunteer project, expect January and February application deadlines.
Teens Helping Peers Learn
The DC Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative matches tutors with elementary through high school students in need of academic support. If tutoring is not your strength, the organization also seeks volunteers to help with administrative work, social media, video, photography and volunteer matching. If you prefer to help closer to home, many local high schools also have a peer tutoring network or talk to your learning specialist about starting your own!
There are any number of volunteer opportunities for teens looking to support area residents experiencing chronic hunger. Cooking enthusiasts can sign up at Martha’s Table to bake muffins, or peel, chop and slice to prepare meals for nightly deliveries. So Others Might Eat offers an online calendar that enables would-be volunteers to sign up for shifts serving meals. Volunteers can also contribute to the organization’s efforts to provide affordable housing, medical care and job training to the region’s homeless population.
Nourishing our Cultural Heritage
The Smithsonian offers teenagers dozens of local opportunities to educate visitors, advise on museum youth programs and learn about museum administration. The Freer and Sackler Galleries and National Portrait Gallery each host a year-long Teen Council that advises on museum programs, while the Museum of Natural History trains teens for Q?Crew, which leads science workshops for visitors. These programs are highly competitive and teens should plan to apply for summer internships in January and February. Check out the full list of Smithsonian youth volunteer opportunities.
Supporting our Four-Legged Friends
The Humane Rescue Alliance’s page suggests many self-starter opportunities, including the aptly-named Teen Ambassador in Leadership and Service (TAILS). This program gives animal lovers the chance to refine their leadership, advocacy and fundraising through a series of workshops and mentoring that equip students to design and implement a project to help rescue animals and the people who care for them. For those who like their animals less domesticated, the National Zoo offers a Summer Teen Volunteer Program. Zoo applications are due early in the year.
For Lovers of the Great Outdoors
Volunteer.gov offers a searchable database of opportunities for nature lovers, environmentalists and National Mall enthusiasts. The results are surprisingly diverse. If you want to answer visitors’ questions at the Washington Monument or learn how to use aerial data and mapping applications to improve federal government maps, then click to learn more.
Looking for a paid opportunity or an internship? Then check out our blog, “Let’s Work this Summer.”