PBS Kids GO! It's My Life
Volunteering: How Can I Make A Difference?

The problems of the world, or even your community, might seem gigantic. Unfortunately, they often are. You might even feel like there's no point trying to do anything. Honestly, how can one young person really make a dent in everything that needs to be done out there?

Well, think about standing in a completely dark room with no lamps or light switches. You light a candle, and suddenly there's a little light, and the darkness doesn't seem quite as bad. Then, slowly, people join you, until there are a hundred people with a hundred candles. Now the room is bright-and the darkness is gone!

Volunteering is like this. One single person, like one candle, can make a difference. If a whole bunch of "ones" gather together to work on the same problem, they can make it better-or even go away. Every person is important, and every person can do some good. Like you!

Now that you know you can make a difference, what kind of volunteering should you do? Here are some ideas to help you choose:

Think about what you're into
What are you passionate about? What's out there in the world that catches your interest? What do you want to be when you grow up? The answers to these questions will help point you to a volunteer cause or group you'll like being part of. For instance:

  • If you've always loved animals, you can volunteer to care for abandoned pets or injured wildlife.

  • If you want to grow up to be a doctor or nurse, you can look for a youth volunteer program at a local hospital.

  • If you like business and organizing things, you can become a fundraiser for a worthy charity.

Think about what you're good at
What skills do you have? What kinds of jobs do you do best? Try to find a volunteer position that will let you make the most of your strengths and talents. For instance:

  • If you're a great speaker, you could use your voice and thoughts to educate others about a problem you care about, such as animal cruelty.

  • If you're an awesome cook, or even if you just make pretty good sandwiches, you might find a way to help feed hungry people in your area.

Remember: Sometimes it can be even more rewarding to find a volunteer position that involves skills that we DON'T often use. This lets us gain experience, learn new things, and improve ourselves! For example: If you're shy around strangers, you could think about volunteering with a group or team, which might help you become more outgoing.

Look for need in your own community
Glance around. What needs to be improved in your town, city, or school? What types of volunteer projects would do the most good? For instance:

  • If there are a lot of homeless people in your area, you could raise money to help them, or get your family to volunteer at a soup kitchen or shelter.

  • If your town has vacant lots or areas filled with dirt or trash, you could organize or join a group to plant trees and flowers to make these areas more beautiful.

Remember: When you see an area of need, don't just assume someone else is "taking care of it." Check to see if there's already a group or charity trying to help the situation. If there is-great! They'll probably need your assistance. But if there isn't, maybe it's up to you to start something yourself.

Think about time
How much of a commitment are you willing to make? How much of your day, week, month, or year do you want to spend on volunteer activities? Do you have just a few hours now and then, or are you looking for a bigger project? For example:

  • If you have a couple of hours on the weekend, you could visit people in the hospital or at a home for senior citizens.

  • If you have a whole summer to spend volunteering, you could join a national campaign to help build parks and trails, or organize fundraising drives to support a local homeless shelter.

Think about your limitations
We're all capable of doing great things-but we also have to follow family rules and routines. Make sure to involve a parent in your volunteer-finding process, so you can be sure that:

  • You have permission to do it
  • The adults in your life feel confident that you'll be safe
  • You have transportation to and from places you need to be
  • Your volunteering isn't taking too much time away from schoolwork and other responsibilities
  • Adults can step in and help if you need them to

Of course, there are lots of ways you can volunteer with members of your family, and we'll talk more about that in It's A Family Thing.

Ask around and do some research
Sometimes there are things that need improving or people who need help, but we can't see them by just looking around. Try asking your parents or teachers about worthy causes to get involved with. Surf the ‘Net for Web sites that match you up with jobs and projects. Your place of worship, school, and community center are also great places to ask about volunteering! Here are some ideas:

  • If students in other countries need books to read, you could organize a book drive and send the material where it will do the most good.

  • If there's an area of wilderness that's in danger of being bulldozed or spoiled, you could raise awareness by getting people to write their congressperson or senator.

Surf to it!
Here are some great Web sites that can help you find the volunteer project or job that's perfect for you:

  • Volunteer Match

  • Serve Net

  • Do Something

  • Youth Service America

  • Youth Noise

  • Idealist: Kids and Teens

  • Americorps

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