Make a Difference: Put Your Teen Energy and Enthusiasm to Work!
Make a Difference: Put Your Teen Energy and Enthusiasm to Work! by Liz Suneby “A LT H O U G H T H E W O R L D IS FULL OF SUFFERING, IT IS FULL ALSO O F T H E O V E R C O M I N G O F I T. ” Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) This quote from Helen Keller—author, political activist, But, by working with others to help chip away at universal lecturer, and the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor problems, you can have a positive impact on the world, as well. of Arts degree—is one of my favorites. It inspires me to takeresponsibility for repairing the world and it gives me hope thatI can make a difference. Accept responsibility as a citizen of the world Whether you choose to focus on people, animals, or the TeenLife developed this guide to inspire you to make the environment, there are countless ways to make a difference. world a better place and to provide you with practical advice In fact, there are so many problems in the world that it’s naturalfor doing so. If you are not sure where to begin, this guide will to question whether you can actually have a positive effect. help you get going. If you already have ideas, this guide will Don’t get stymied. Accept responsibility for doing your part. give you new ones to consider. Lend a hand. It feels good to do good. Gain a sense of empowermentWHY COMMIT TO COMMUNITY SERVICE? Service gives you the chance to develop your leadership, communications, and interpersonal skills, as well as an overallMany middle and high schools require community service as sense of accomplishment. It broadens your worldview anda condition of graduation. Whether or not your school does, even has the potential to introduce you to career choices. service offers many benefits—to others as well as to yourself. Appreciate all that you have Make the world a little better As a busy student, it is easy to obsess about the very real Yes, you can single-handedly improve the lives of others. pressures you face. But seeing firsthand the challenges Consider the impact of helping an elderly neighbor who no others face and the ways people overcome their challengeslonger can handle yard work, grocery shopping, or simply provides valuable perspective for your own life. reading the Sunday newspaper. Or how you could brightenthe days of children in the hospital by making cards, craft kits,and playlists of upbeat tunes. Or the importance of providing Strengthen your college applicationessentials to families in need by donating books, school In-depth service experiences make you a more multi- supplies, and clothing to a local shelter. dimensional and interesting person and consequently, a stronger candidate for acceptance. College admissionsOther issues are too big for any one person to overcome alone, officers see through checklist or superficial involvement, like saving animals from extinction, curing genetic diseases, so discover your philanthropic priorities and pursue them reversing global warming, or ensuring access to clean water. with passion.
GETTING STARTED Even if you are committed to the idea of community Favorite school subjects:service, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed about how and where Math, art, biology, chemistry, environmentalto get started. As anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978) science, history, foreign languages, English…said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committedcitizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing thatever has.” Extracurricular interests: Acting, ceramics, band, chorus, dance, team Looking Within or individual sports, student government, babysitting…Interests & Talents: The best place to start is by lookingwithin—to your interests and talents. Connecting yourpassions to fixing problems in the world will lead you to ideasin the short-term, and hopefully to a lifelong commitment to Hobbies/passions:social justice and service to others. Animals, biking, cooking, travel, crafts, camping, computers/electronics, gardening, movies,Think about favorite academic subjects, after-school activities, photography, yoga…or issues that you care deeply about. Is reading the way you liketo relax? Is speaking Spanish how you like to converse? Doeshiking in nature bring you joy? What about making movies onyour laptop? Are you happiest when you are playing the piano? Universal issues:Or kicking a soccer ball? Do you have a grandparent with Education for girls, clean water, global warming,Alzheimer’s disease? A friend with Type 1 diabetes? Do you adoption, bullying, eating disorders, depression,know someone serving overseas in the military? Take a look at domestic violence…the table on the right to start brainstorming. STUDENTSforSERVICE teen volunteers help MILLIONTreesNYC plant 20,000 trees in parks throughout New York in one single day. See listing on page 26.
Ways to Help: Once you have a philanthropic focus, there aremany ways you can make a difference. You can: Make your voice heard: We live in a democracy where every citizen’s voice Volunteer your time: counts. When you turn 18 years old you can vote Have you ever heard the expression “Time is money”? for people whose beliefs are similar to yours to There’s no better gift than the gift of your time, effort, and represent your views in town, state, and national energy. Depending on the opportunity, you can volunteer government. But you don’t have to wait until you alone, with a friend, a group, or with a parent or other turn 18 to make your voice heard. Make your opinion grown-up. You can work directly with the individuals the known to government officials and encourage others non-profit serves, help with administrative duties in the to do so as well. Write letters to the editor in local and office, clean up or paint, or assist at special events. Try national publications about issues of concern to you. to devote AT LEAST 10 hours of your time to one organiza- Spearhead an essay contest at your school with a tion to have more impact. Consider opportunities right teacher or administrator as your sponsor. at your school, in your community, and/or a summer service opportunity in locations across the country and the world. Practice deliberate acts of kindness: While deliberate acts of kindness do not qualify for community service hours, it is important to live your Collect goods for donation: life with integrity, compassion, and respect. Perhaps What do you have that you don’t need anymore, but the writer Henry James summed it up best when he someone else could use? Go through your closet: what proclaimed, “Three things in human life are impor- clothes have you outgrown that someone else could tant: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. wear? How about used sports equipment or books that And the third is to be kind.” are in good shape? Think about broadening your reach by collecting items from friends, neighbors, even stores to distribute to others in need. Looking Outward Raise funds: Identify organizations to support: How can you find national There are multiple ways to raise funds for donation. You or local organizations that could benefit from your involve- can earn money by charging for your services, such as ment? Start your research right here with the organizations sorting recyclables and dispensing trash, shoveling snow, listed in TeenLife’s 2012 Guide to Community Service. Also, babysitting, or fixing computers. Have you ever thought speak to as many people as possible about organizations about organizing your own fundraiser, such as a bake sale that they know of or are involved with that fit your interests, or carwash? You could participate in a charity run/walk/ including your: readathon and raise money through sponsorships. • guidance counselor • teachers • parents and other relatives Buy items that help others: • neighbors Another way to raise funds is to purchase from organiza- • clergy and lay leaders at your house of worship tions that donate a percent of the money they earn to • friends charity. When you buy these brands of food or clothing, for example, you not only get something you want, but Clarify community service graduation requirements: also you help others. Certain web sites and catalogs do Be sure you are aware of all parameters, including: the same thing. Look carefully when you go shopping • number of hours per year or in total and encourage other people to change the world with a • approved activities simple purchase! • approved organizations • forms, signatures, and deadlines for submission
Create a plan: Once you have ideas for what you’d like to do who were in a classroom of their own. So he approachedand potential organizations you would like to help, draft an the special needs teacher and together they devised a plan. action plan to organize your thinking. Include: She paired Sam with a boy with Down syndrome, and the two boys ate lunch together once a week in the school cafeteria • a succinct overview of the service project for the entire school year. As the year progressed, both boys • objectives/goals often brought friends to join them. Over lunch, Sam and his • names and contact information for people you buddy spoke about sports, food, and school and formed a will need to work with mutually-beneficial friendship. • required materials and approximate costs • schedule, noting key milestones and dates • success measurements, including how others and Math Student Tutors Younger Kids you will benefit High-school student Lindsay’s favorite subject in school is math. Since middle school, she has been volunteeringTEEN COMMUNITY SERVICE EXAMPLES to tutor elementary school kids in math at a program in Teaneck, New Jersey called Math Adventures and WordThese real-life stories illustrate how a few teens have put Play that offers free access to the entire community. Fortheir various interests and talents to work for others. two hours on Saturdays, Lindsay helps kids complete their homework and study for tests. Many of the students in the program are not able to afford a tutor, which makes it High School Girls Focus on Suicide Prevention especially rewarding for Lindsay to help other kids According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention understand and enjoy a subject she knows so well.(AFSP), suicide is the third leading cause of death, behindaccidents and homicide, of people aged 15 to 24. While Actor, Singer, and Musician Sharesthis statistic is startling, it was the personal connection Love of Musicto classmates who had taken their lives that caused Lexyand Jennifer, two high school seniors, to focus on suicide Alex is an actor, singer, and musician, who by seventh prevention for their community service project. These girls grade had credits on stage and TV. Appreciative of the artsapproached a local, family-owned clothing shop in their town education he enjoyed in his own school district, he wantedwith an idea to sell hand-braided bracelets in their store. The to help kids in other districts that were not able to offer theshop donated colorful cloth and an assortment of buttons same level of opportunities to their students. Alex usedand the girls braided and sold the bracelets in the store. All the money he earned from his acting jobs to purchase 21proceeds were donated to AFSP (www.afsp.org) to support new and used musical instruments (4 guitars, 5 trumpets,their work in suicide prevention. 5 clarinets, 6 flutes, and a drum set) and donated them to a performing arts public school in Yonkers, New York. As a high school student, Alex continues to use his creativeMiddle School Boys Organize Bone Marrow talents to help others. In addition to performing locally forRegistration Drives charitable events, he has traveled to Latin America fourFor people with certain blood cancers or disorders, a bone times on community service trips and always finds a way tomarrow transplant is the only hope for survival. Saving a incorporate music, including performing in the local villageslife is the ultimate service, and exactly how middle school where he has lived. Not surprisingly, in college Alex plans toboys Andrew and Jake wanted to make their mark on the double major in music and Latin American studies in orderworld. Together, and with the help of their mothers, the boys to make positive change in that part of the world throughorganized two bone marrow registration drives for Gift of Life music, business, and education.(www.giftoflife.org) at events in their town. To spread the word,the boys posted fliers around town, and got their local paper Tennis Enthusiast Raises Money forto write a story. Thanks to their hard work, 134 people joined Multiple Sclerosis Societythe registry. Jillian, a middle-school tennis player, hosted a parent/child tennis tournament to raise money for the Multiple SclerosisSchoolmate Gives the Gift of Friendship Society, a disease that affects her aunt and grandmother. Sam attends a big public school and realized he never had Jillian got her tennis club to donate the space, local the chance to interact with any of the kids with special needs supermarkets and restaurants to donate food, and several
businesses to donate prizes for the winners. Jillian asked “One way teens help Heifer is by writing personalizedpeople to donate $25 with a check made out directly to notes thanking friends for their donation and interest, andMultiple Sclerosis Society (www.nationalmssociety.org). To informing them of upcoming Heifer events. Donors havemaximize contributions, she even encouraged non-tennis expressed their gratitude for a personalized card and howplayers to attend to watch some great tennis for a great cause. impressed they are that a teen has taken the initiative to get involved,” remarks Rachel, Area Volunteer Coordinator,Grateful Survivor Cooks for a Cure Eastern MA, Heifer International, Inc. (www.heifer.org)— giving families in 128 countries self-reliance and hope with Hannah, a cancer survivor, cooked up her familys favorite a source of food rather than short-term relief.recipe for delicious hot fudge sauce to raise money for theplayroom at the Jimmy Fund Clinic at The Dana Farber “Providing a venue for people of all ages to give back toCancer Institute (www.jimmyfund.org). After years of making their communities is central to Cradles to Crayons’ mission.the sauce with her mom to give as holiday gifts, she came up Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders, so it is important towith the idea to sell it instead to raise money for the childrens engage them in high-quality volunteer experiences and lead-playroom where she had spent many hours during treatment ership programs. We aim to inspire youth to find their passionfor leukemia. Her mom approached a locally-owned gift shop, for helping others and take the lead in creating change."and that was where Hannah launched her sales. This firstsuccessful retail experience was the beginning of more "Teens make a difference every day at Cradles to Crayons.to come. Just this month, a high school student saw our high need for winter coats. She saved up over $500 from her babysit- ting money to purchase 20 brand-new, high-quality coats.NON-PROFITS VALUE TEENS Teens like Karly Oettgen featured on page 21 also shine as volunteers in our Teen Leadership Corps. These studentsHear directly from several non-profit executives about their take an entire group of 20-25 volunteers into a project area,perspectives on teen volunteerism. give them orientation, and lead the team through a two-hour volunteer shift. These teens have the confidence and initiative“We appreciate the incredible energy and enthusiasm of teen to direct adults and peers, answer questions, and ensurevolunteers at our annual events such as at our fundraising that quality work is being done,” explains Ashley Tarbet,walk, NAMIWalks (May 12, 2012, Artesani Park, Soldiers Giving Corps Volunteer Manager, Cradles to Crayons (www.Field Road, Boston), and at our Advocacy Day at the State cradlestocrayons.org)—providing homeless and low-incomeHouse (April 2, 2012). At our Advocacy Day, teen volunteers children with the essentials they require to thrive: to feelinterested in government and public policy also get to learn safe, warm, ready to learn, and valued.about mental health issues in the state and meet aides to ourstate’s elected officials.” Cindy Nelson, Volunteer Coordinator, Volunteering in any capacity makes you a better person,National Alliance on Mental Illness of Massachusetts (www. inspires you to spread goodwill, and helps you grow in namimass.org)—improving the quality of life both for people so many ways on a personal level. It is a win win for with mental illnesses and for their families through aware- all involved.ness, advocacy, and support.Adds Nelson, “Here’s my advice to teens—volunteer for anorganization or cause that you are truly passionate about. It isimportant to know yourself—do you want to work with other Liz Suneby is the author of books for children and teens,teens in a group, or are you willing to work alone? Do you need including The Mitzvah Project Book: Making Mitzvah Part ofsome direction, or can you work independently? What skills Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah…and Your Life, published by Jewishdo you have—and what volunteer opportunities are a good Lights, and the Children’s Choice award-winning, See Whatmatch?” You Can Be: Explore Careers That Could Be For You."Also, be creative! If you cant find a volunteer opportunity thatinterests you, then write a proposal to an organization thataddresses why you value their work, presents how you canhelp them achieve their mission, outlines the resources youwill need (staff assistance, office space, etc.), and the time youare willing to commit,” says Nelson.