Volunteering for People Under 18

by Susan J. Ellis of Energize, Inc.

Are you interested in becoming a volunteer but wonder what's available for you because you are under age 18? Good news! One of the great things about volunteering is that you can get to do things that you might never be hired to do--you can work to your level of competency, not your age.

Ways to Get Involved

You have some choices to make about how you want to volunteer. One option is to join a youth organization that includes service to others in its mission. As a member, you'll get to participate in group volunteer projects with the other young people in your organization. This gives you a circle of friends as well as service opportunities. Look into youth groups at the Y, your place of worship, Girl or Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, etc. Even if some of these organizations sound like they focus on younger kids, you may find that their programs for teens open lots of new doors.

Another option is to become involved through your school. Is there a club or extra-curricular service group that does volunteer work? What about the student government? On the other hand, you may be required to do some community service before you graduate and therefore there will be a coordinating office to help you find nearby agencies that accept student help.

Do your parents or other family members volunteer? Have you ever asked them if you can go along? They may be surprised that you want to share their interests!

Last--but certainly not least--you can volunteer on your own. The most important thing is to figure out what interests you--which causes, agencies, types of work. Then you can focus your search on those organizations meeting your wishes. There are so many ways to make a difference--take your time to find the one that is right for you.

Offering Your Services

There are many volunteer programs that will welcome your participation, either in special youth assignments or side by side with adult volunteers. Most of the time you will begin by talking with the agency's "Director of Volunteers," the person responsible for interviewing and placing people who want to get involved.

Expect to complete an application form that asks you for information about your background, skills and interests. During the interview, answer questions honestly and don't be afraid to ask questions of your own. Talk about what you most want to learn by volunteering, or about the things you most want the chance to do. If you hoped to work directly with young children and the Director of Volunteers says that you'll be doing messenger work, speak up. Remember that there are many agencies and you can keep scheduling interviews until you find volunteer work you want.

Be sure to discuss any special needs you have. How will you get to the work site? Does your volunteer schedule have to coincide with a bus schedule? Will you be able to work during school holidays? What about the summer? Do you need reimbursement for any transportation or clothing expenses (some agencies can pay for these things)?

You should expect to be given a permission slip for your parents to sign. Don't be offended. Many agencies feel required to make sure that your parents are aware of and agree with your volunteer work. The law (and most insurance companies) hold your parents responsible for your actions.

Sell Yourself!

You may find that some organizations are reluctant to offer you a volunteer job because of your age. If you are really interested in their work, sell your qualifications! Let the Director of Volunteers know if you have good grades, have held part-time jobs, or have done other volunteer work.

Describe your skills. The following are all very appealing to agencies needing volunteer help:

  • Speaking a foreign language.
  • Understanding computers and the Internet--something that many adults need assistance with!
  • Willingness to do a variety of small and large tasks in a day.
  • Paying attention to detail and completing work accurately.
  • Being friendly and liking people (important to volunteering that involves friendly visiting).
  • Not minding work that is dusty or requires wearing old clothes.

If you meet someone who is really prejudiced about young people--move on! But sometimes you can show an adult that you will be a great member of a team. And then you will have created a new role for yourself as a volunteer.

Copyright Energize, Inc., used by permission.

Other Resources for Youth

  • Generation On
    As the youth division of Points of Light, Generation On has brought the nation's lively youth service organizations under one umbrella, igniting the power of kids to make their mark in the world. 
  • The Big Help (Nickelodeon TV)
    A nation-wide program driven by local activities. The focus is on kids, as individuals and in groups, volunteering in their own communities. The Toolkit offers advice for kids on organizing, promoting and running a project, as well as a list of partnering organizations.