Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Student's Guide to Community Service

Ideas and information on how young people can help make their communities better places to live.

The Prudential Insurance Company of America
751 Broad Street
Newark NJ 07102-3777

An abstract drawing of teens holding hands.


In this fast-paced world, it's surprising there's time for you to attend classes, do homework, take part in extracurricular activities, and still manage to relax and have fun with family and friends.

Yet despite busy schedules, many young people like you are concerned about what's going on in their neighborhoods and communities, and are looking for ways to get involved. Here are some facts:

  • In a survey of nearly 1,000 young people commissioned by Prudential, 95 percent of those interviewed said they felt it's important for people to volunteer.
  • Almost two-thirds of those respondents said that individual responsibility is the best way to address community problems.
  • 67 percent indicated that they devote some of their time to volunteer activities.

A picture of two girls and one guy smiling.Why Volunteer?

Why are so many students interested in serving their communities? Because they want to:

  • Make a difference
  • Develop new skills
  • Prepare for college
  • Explore career paths
  • Have fun working with friends
  • Feel good about themselves

Although the efforts of one person may seem small, every act of service can have an important impact on someone ... and millions of individual volunteers can create a revolution of sorts. Whatever your reason for volunteering, once involved, it's easy to get hooked - to "catch the spirit" of community involvement. Volunteering can expand your horizons and become a satisfying, lifelong commitment.

What's Right for Me?

You may make an instant decision to volunteer in your community. But don't be hasty in selecting a project or organization. First, take time to think about what problems or issues in your neighborhood or community concern you.

Then, as you search for the "right" volunteer activity, ask yourself:

  • How much time do I have to commit?
  • What talents or skills do I offer?
  • What do I want to get out of my involvement?
  • Will I enjoy this type of service?

There are many reasons to volunteer. But one should be universal - volunteer for something you can enjoy.

Don't limit your thinking. You may want to volunteer in the structured environment of a large organization, or you may prefer the more informal "family" feeling of a smaller group. Perhaps you want to create your own volunteer activity by engaging your friends or family, or maybe just work alone on a project. When you've selected or narrowed your volunteer interests, you may want to talk to your parents, friends, a teacher or club sponsor, a counselor, or someone at your church or synagogue. They might have suggestions on how to go about making it happen. Call organizations and local government offices that offer services to the public. Read your local newspaper. Watch and listen to the television and radio news for ideas.

After you've made a choice, commit yourself to it. Give it your energy - and adequate time - to determine if it's a good fit.

What Can a Volunteer Do?

This information can help serve as a compass to point you to some of the many possibilities for volunteering. Combine these suggestions with your own ideas and creativity - and go for it.


A man delivering books, magazines, flowers and candy.So the medical or healthcare field intrigues you. Take heart, opportunities abound. Consider volunteering at a local blood bank, a medical clinic for the poor, a nursing home, an emergency medical squad, or a cancer or AIDS facility. Maybe you'd enjoy entertaining kids in the hospital, or collecting books and toys to help them pass the time. Many young volunteers also get involved in walkathons and other fundraising activities to fight major diseases, or to provide medical care for those who cannot afford it.


A girl surrounded by cats and dogs.If animals are your passion, here's a flock of ideas. Check with your local zoo, animal shelter or humane society. Volunteer chores can include cleaning cages, feeding and exercising the "residents," assisting with adoptions, working in the office, or planning fund-raising events. Or consider raising a guide dog for a blind person. Perhaps your interests are more in tune with endangered species. Think about volunteering at a wildlife refuge or nature habitat where you can steer your commitment to awareness campaigns or fund-raising activities.


A woman reading a story book to a little boy and little girl.If you enjoy reading, you've got a skill that's easy to share. Community shelters (for the homeless or abused) often house children who are as hungry for fun and stories as for a square meal. Libraries, children's hospitals and Head Start programs may jump at the offer of organized story hours. On a more personal level, you can read to an elderly neighbor or someone who is blind. Or check into a local organization that needs readers for a "talking books" program.


A man and woman dancing.Young volunteers with an interest in the arts can share those talents, as individuals or in a group. Check with senior centers, shelters, daycare programs, local parks, or recreation programs. Offer to serve as an usher at a community theater or help find stage props and costumes. Or offer assistance at an arts center or a local art gallery. You could present theatrical skits, musical revues, magic shows, concerts or other forms of entertainment at senior citizen homes, hospitals or other community facilities. Not only does your contribution help keep cash-strapped arts alive in your community, but it also helps build a lifelong appreciation for the arts and brings enjoyment to many.


A woman and little girl playing basketball.Share your athletic talent and interest as a coach or coaching assistant in sports or recreational activities. "Help wanted" signs are often posted at volunteer organizations serving people with mental or physical challenges; YMCA, YWCA or Red Cross chapters; local civic organizations (like the Elks, Kiwanis, Rotary or Lions clubs); city parks; and recreation or neighborhood programs for low-income kids. They often seek volunteers to help out with Little League, swimming, softball, basketball, soccer, tennis, gymnastics, or other recreational activities.


A girl in a wheel chair playing baseball; and umpire behind her.Be a special friend to people with mental or physical disabilities. Not only will your skills contribute to the programs, but you may help change public perception about people who have special challenges. Volunteer to help with local, regional or state Special Olympics competitions held in many communities. Local groups and residential facilities often need volunteers for field trips to museums and amusement parks, recreation and sports activities, or arts and crafts programs. Contact community centers or other facilities for disabled persons, or ask your mayor's office for options.


Concern about our environment is serious stuff. And your commitment can start right at home. If you're not doing it now, start recycling your own newspapers, glass and aluminum. Then get your neighbors involved. If your school doesn't have a recycling program, talk with your teachers or principal about getting one started. The company that supplies your school cafeteria might lend a hand in this effort. Young volunteers also have been known to recycle tires, motor oil, telephone books, greeting cards, Christmas trees and computer ink cartridges.


A woman and girl with a walker racing.Perhaps you don't want to take on the responsibility of organizing and planning. There are other ways to help your favorite causes. There are many activities in which you can let your feet do the talking - at dance marathons and other indoor activities or at outdoor events, such as bicycle races, walkathons, and charity runs.


A female detectiveSo you have an interest in police work as a career, or are concerned about crime in your community. Contact your local police department to see if you can help develop or get involved in a student-watch program. How about developing a school watch program? Talk with your principal or school counselor about establishing a student patrol that keeps an eye out for and reports theft, graffiti and other crimes at your school. Or think about educating other young people about avoiding drugs, dealing with strangers, or staying safe on the Internet. Another possibility: volunteer to take part in "teen court" justice systems that operate in many cities.


A chef carrying a tray of soup.Perhaps you've been concerned about homeless or needy people. Their needs are many - from shelter to food and clothing. Community projects and church-affiliated organizations such as Habitat for Humanity need volunteers to construct housing for the poor. Volunteer to help prepare or distribute food at community or church-sponsored soup kitchens. A local low-income housing project may need some help in a community garden. Or you can plant and tend your own garden, and then donate the fruits (or vegetables) of your labor to a local food bank, or sell them to support your favorite charity. Many young volunteers also have had success with school or community campaigns to collect food, clothing, books, toys, school supplies, eyeglasses, toiletries, backpacks and holiday gifts for the disadvantaged.


A boy presenting that it's bad to drink alcohol.Perhaps you'd like to educate fellow students and others in your community about an issue that's important to you. For example, you could warn fellow students about smoking, drug or alcohol abuse, AIDS, or negative peer pressure. Or you could promote important ideals such as racial tolerance, a clean environment, or traffic safety. You might want to put together an educational presentation and take it to schools in your area, or launch a general awareness campaign in your community.


A girl digging dirt to plant some flowers.Here are some earthy ideas to sink your hands into. Your local parks department may welcome an offer to plant trees and flowers in public parks, along walkways, or in downtown areas. Local environmental groups, landscaping companies and the National Arbor Day Foundation often give away tree seedlings. Talk to your principal about ways to beautify and maintain your school grounds. Or consider cleaning up litter on a regular basis from neighborhood streets, local streams, highway shoulders and other public places. Another idea: offer to help paint over graffiti on school or city property.


A man with a little girl and little boy on his back; playing horseyIf you like helping other kids, or are considering a teaching career, volunteering can work for you. Schools, churches, libraries and community centers often have tutoring or mentoring programs for youngsters. Local camps, especially those for sick or low-income kids, frequently need counselors. Other places to consider: children's hospitals, daycare centers, shelters, programs for "latchkey" kids, homework tutoring phone lines, and Big Brother or Sister programs. Some city or county courtrooms are interested in activities for children who must come to court with a parent; ask about setting up a room with books and toys, and volunteer to help care for these children. If you prefer, you could organize your own "camp" to get local children involved in sports, music, science, theatre, gardening or some other activity.


A boy with a lot of books and a book fair sign hanging on him.If you want to do something in your own special way, put on your creative thinking cap. On your own, or with a few friends, you can raise money for your favorite cause through bake sales, car washes, and garage sales. Or form a volunteering club at your school that can work on a wide variety of service projects.

Do's & Don'ts of Successful Volunteering
A handy man carrying a ladder, watering can, hammer and wood.

  • Do be flexible. It is rare to find the "perfect" fit right away. Keep an open mind - you might discover something new that interests you.
  • Do be persistent. Volunteer coordinators are often busy, so don't assume they're not interested in you if they don't call you right away.
  • Do attend orientation meetings. Keep in mind that informed volunteers are the best volunteers. These meetings will help you do the best job possible.
  • Do take necessary training classes. Ask about them before you decide to get involved and be prepared to learn what will be needed.
  • Do be responsible. Show up on time and follow through with your commitments. People will be depending on you.
  • Don't expect to start at the top. You have to work hard and prove your worth before you are given more responsibility.
  • Don't think that volunteering has to be a group effort. You can start your own volunteer program and do it on your own time.
  • Do expect to get plenty of personal enjoyment and satisfaction from your volunteer experiences.

Local Resources for Volunteer Ideas

  • Principal, counselor, teacher
  • Churches and synagogues
  • Organizations such as the United Way - and their many affiliates
  • Mayor's office
  • Civic service groups, such as the Elks, Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions clubs
  • Local arts centers, community theaters
  • Food pantries, shelters for battered women and the homeless
  • Zoos, animal shelters, conservation groups
  • Hospitals, hospices, nursing homes
  • Residential facilities for disabled persons or abused children
  • Newspapers, television and radio
  • Schools and libraries
  • Local community and volunteer centers

We hope this booklet has given you some ideas for volunteer service and information on where to find organizations in need of young volunteers. There is little doubt that your help is needed, whether in your school, your neighborhood or city, or through your church or synagogue. Match your interests with the many volunteer opportunities available.

If you are still stumped, on the next page is a list of some national service organizations that offer information on youth volunteerism. Write or call them for additional ideas.

Ready, set, go - Catch the Spirit of volunteerism!

Arthur F. Ryan
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Prudential Financial