In honor of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., many people have chosen to celebrate his birthday each year by volunteering for a good cause or doing community service, which we love. But most of the problems we are facing — from racism to pollution, bullying to animal cruelty — will take more than a single day of action. Dr. King’s legacy reminds us that we need ongoing committed action by thousands of activists to make change — not just on January 20 but throughout the year.
Many of us see problems at our school, in our community, or in the world, but feel powerless to change them. And how do you make a difference when you’re already busy with homework, extracurriculars, and having a social life?
Luckily, it doesn’t have to take a ton of time to make a big impact! Becoming a volunteer is a great way to start. Whether you can spare a few hours a month or an entire summer break, you’ll gain new skills, inspire others, and start to make the world a better place. There are as many great reasons to volunteer as there are ways to do it. Here are just a few:
Give your time.
Even if you can’t vote, don’t have a lot of money, or don’t know where to start, you can make a difference by donating maybe your greatest resource – your time – to a cause you believe in. Whether it’s volunteering at a homeless shelter to help those less fortunate, organizing a clean-up with a friend to protect the environment, or raising money to benefit your community, you will be able to see your efforts making actual, measurable changes. Nonprofit organizations need your time and enthusiasm, and you will gain a sense of empowerment as you experience how little actions can have a big impact.
Engage Your Passions.
What are you passionate about? Whether it’s animals, music, soccer, or video games, volunteering is a great way to do more of what you love. Have an interesting skill? Offer to teach it to a youth or senior group. Know a lot about a specific topic? Volunteer to give talks or lead tours at a local museum. Great at handicrafts? Sell your creations and donate the money to a nonprofit. On the volleyball team? Organize a game for charity. Tap into your creativity or ask friends how they think you can apply your passion to your cause. Volunteering doesn’t have to be all about self-sacrifice. You’ll have fun, make new friends, all while doing what you love.
Build Your Resume.
Sometimes what will help your college application, resume, or cover letter stand out in a crowd is the unique ways you have chosen to give back to your community or make a difference on an issue you care about. Colleges are increasingly looking for applicants with community service or other unique experience that indicates that someone will be a positive member of their student body. That is not to say that putting something on your resume or college application should be your reason for volunteering — but you don’t need to choose between preparing for your future and taking action to make a better future for others.
Volunteering can also be a great way to gain practical skills, like public speaking, fundraising, or working with groups. You’ll have the freedom to shape your own learning experience by putting your ideas and passion into action. You’ll also meet friends and potential mentors who can offer valuable guidance, letters of recommendation, and even job opportunities. And these can make great topics for your college essays. No matter what you want to do in the future — and especially if you don’t know yet! — volunteering can help you build skills, connections, and experiences that will propel you on your way.
So where do you start?
Many community non-profits allow volunteers under the age of 18, some even under the age of 16. There are likely dozens of organizations in your community working on a cause you care about.
You can get involved with some of these national organizations working locally:
Or look into volunteer with organizations in your community, like:
- Homeless, youth, and family shelters
- Food banks
- Animal shelters and sanctuaries
- Homes for the elderly
- Community, youth, and cultural centers
- Tutoring clubs, after school programs, libraries
- Parks and nature conservancies
Or… Make your own opportunity!
Start a club at school, organize a clothing drive or swap, volunteer for a political campaign, or walk, run, bike, or swim for a cause!