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Kids and Community Service


As the holidays are upon us, many teens and their families start thinking about fulfilling community service requirements for school. Winter break is coming up and it might be a good time to get some volunteer hours completed. It sounds simple, but finding volunteer opportunities for kids is not always that easy.

Most schools only require a small number of hours per student each year; 10–20 hours of community service. Many organizations will not accept short–term volunteers. They'll accept teens but they want them to make a six-month commitment, (or longer). Some organizations have short term projects but they don't accept anyone under 18. So, what can teens and their families do to get community service hours?

First, start by thinking about what your teen loves to do. Brainstorm with them. Are they great at chess? A fantastic knitter or crafter? Do they play piano or have a green thumb? Are they bookish or sports-oriented? Computer–savvy? Are they fluent in any foreign languages? What do they want to do when they “grow-up”? What subject might they wish to study when they head off to college? If you're having trouble coming up with ideas, ask them what would they like to be doing if they had a day off from school and could do anything they wanted. Parents should really think about what their child wants to do as a volunteer, not what the parent would like them to do. If you want to volunteer together as a family, there are opportunities for that too.

So, you've determined that your twelve-year old is a great chess player and that is what she would love to do on her day off. When you check and there are no volunteer opportunities for chess playing teens. Well, would she want to play chess with seniors at a nursing home? Or maybe she would like to teach younger kids how to play at a local library. Have your child make up their own volunteer opportunity.

Speaking with other Volunteer Managers around NYC, we all feel it is always best to have your child write that letter or email inquiring about opportunities. Have your child make the phone call asking about playing chess every Thursday afternoon at a nursing home. You can help them research a few places in your neighborhood, and you might find out the names of people who administer recreational programs, but your child should make the calls. Why? It shows that they are mature, have good planning skills and are not afraid to interact with adults. Finding a good volunteer opportunity can be just as competitive as finding a job. Lots of people use volunteer activities to learn new skills to add to their resumes. Many people who are in between jobs volunteer so they can network with others. Your child may be competing with adults for that volunteer position.

Don't overlook any parts of the volunteer application. Make sure that your handwriting is legible. I often look at terrific applications from teenagers. I want to place them, but I can't read their phone number or their email address. If I can't read their application, I can't get back to them. Pay attention to details. I receive lots of applications where teens state that they can volunteer on Sundays at a library that has never been open on Sundays. Plan ahead. If your child wants to volunteer at a popular place like the Bronx Zoo this summer, they should be filling out their application now. Don't wait until school ends, by then, all the best volunteer positions are gone.

Sometimes age requirements are set in stone and other times they can be a bit flexible. It depends on the organization. Call, email or write a letter and ask. My own 12-year-old son desperately wanted to be a Nature Watch volunteer. He saw it advertised in a newsletter from a local nature organization near our home. He asked me for two years. Last year, I emailed the Director and asked if they would accept a 12-year-old volunteer. They said yes, they would consider the application if a parent accompanied the child to each assignment. My son would need to attend a four hour training, do about 10 hours of studying and commit to 4 three hour shifts between March and June. He would also be observed on his first shift. It was a pretty big commitment, but for an organization that we all loved. So, our entire family became Nature Watch volunteers. We love it and will be back again next spring.

Consider the tasks you may be doing when volunteering. When I volunteer as a 4H leader, I am usually in a nice, heated or air-conditioned classroom or leading a field trip in a comfortable museum. When I'm out in the wetlands as a Nature Watch volunteer it may be freezing cold or blazing hot with ruthless mosquitoes. I have to be able to carry heavy telescopes and equipment. Read all the fine print when applying to be a volunteer and ask questions. Try to know what you are getting into before signing up. If your child is incredibly shy, a volunteer position speaking to the public probably won't work, but behind the scenes in an office for the same organization might be a perfect fit.

Once you've signed up, stay with it. You really can't learn much about an organization in only 10 hours. Ask your child to stick with their volunteering for a while. Committed volunteers usually get asked to help with other, more interesting projects. You'll never know if you leave after 4 weeks. Long-term volunteering also looks great on job applications and college and scholarship applications. Many scholarships are only awarded to students who have substantial community service as part of their applications.

Don't have time for a long-term project? There are many great one day opportunities such as the MLK Day of Service, Earth Day and Coastal Clean-up Day. Keep a list of all your one day volunteer activities. Currently, there are many opportunities for volunteering with the Hurricane Sandy Recovery efforts.

Get creative. I know a group of teens who knit scarves and make fleece blankets. They get together for craft days. They'll spend five or six hours knitting and making “no-sew” blankets and then they have an adult donate them all to a local battered women's shelter. Have your child get together with a few friends and bake pet treats to donate to a local animal shelter. Have an adult oversee the project and keep a sign-in sheet of who attended. Take photos and then have the organization that you donate to send an email or letter acknowledging the children's donations. This can then be sent to your child's school to verify their service hours.

Here are a few organizations that have opportunities for teens. The New York Public Library always has openings for teens age 14 and older. Check out our Volunteer page for listing of available options. If your child is not the literary type see below for more possibilities. Good Luck and Happy Volunteering!


Patron-generated content represents the views and interpretations of the patron, not necessarily those of The New York Public Library. For more information see NYPL's Website Terms and Conditions.

great post Maura! As a teen I

great post Maura! As a teen I volunteered in an outpatient hospital wing (did not like it) an art museum's children's exhibit area (liked it, but wasn't crazy about working with kids...) in other words I would have benefited from the sound advice you give here. My last teenage volunteering gig was at a library sale shop. Obviously I loved the library and the people there and I think it had something to do with my choice of career!

Good advice!

Nice round-up of various options; and your personal experiences and insights make the post doubly valuable! Thanks, Maura!


HI, me and my friend were wondering if there are community service opportunities for kids age 11, we would like to help out with something here. we love the library and love helping out. if there are any opportunities for us please contact us at my email provided at the top. Thank You, Ahna & Krystine

hey i want to help out at

hey i want to help out at your library i am 16 and i don't anything to do after school

Hi Ahna & Krystine, Your

Hi Ahna & Krystine, Your email doesn't show up, so please contact me at Thanks! Maura

Teen Student Volunteering for Local News Station

Hi Maura, I am a teacher in the Bronx, New York area. I have a middle school 8th grade student who would love to volunteer at a News Station in our area. Is there any News Station that would offer her the opportunity to volunteer? She is interested in becoming a meteorologist. In advance, I thank you for any information that would assist us in this field. Sincerely, Kathie Saturday January 11th, 2014

Hi Kathie,

Hi Kathie, I would try NY1 or any of the local public TV stations. Here is a neat article about how a local teen got involved as a volunteer for the National Weather Service. Also some info on the National Weather Association. Lastly, a link that might be helpful to the National Weather Service.


Hi Maura, I am a 13 year old teen who wants to volunteer but is left out in most because of my age. Please respond and give suggestions


Hi, i'm Kai, i;m 16 and don't have much to do this summer and would like to volunteer at a local Library. Something like 2-4 hours a day would be nice. I live in Manhattan, so preferably one not too far. Epiphany Branch is close to my home, so there would be best.

Volunteering Epiphany

Kai, contact me via our volunteer page. I do have an opening at Epiphany.

summer community service for teen with boarding or dorm?

My daughter would like to spend some of the summer 2015 in NYC (we dont live here) doing some kind of volunteer/community service but would need a place to board. Are there any summer community service programs with a boarding or residential component? please let me know and thanks

None that I know of , but you

None that I know of , but you could check the website

service hours

i need 25 hours of community service byjanuary and 54 in total to graduate i would like to complete them here at the edenwald library because it is closer to where I live. please give me some suggestions

It would be best to contact

It would be best to contact the Library Manager at Edenwald to see if they need help.

Hi Maura

Hi Maura My name is Alexandra. I have a 12 year old son that has Aspergers. He is high functioning, follows rules, likes to organize. He would love to volunteer at the nypl. I am willing to stay and volunteer also. He is the nest program.

Age to Volunteer

Hi Alexandra, NYPL accepts volunteers age 14 and older.

Hi Maura, I am currently in

Hi Maura, I am currently in the 7th grade and attend a charter school. Along with school I attend a religious program every Sunday. I am in the stage of completing my confirmation but, I can't finish this step without 30 hours of community service. I really love animals and will enjoy volunteering at an animal shelter. Can you please help me and, please answer as soon as possible. Sincerely, Kimberly Marrero

7th grader needing Volunteer Hours

Hi Kimberly, You'll need to call the different animal shelters close to your home and school and ask them about volunteering. You may not be able to volunteer because of your age, but you could ask the shelters if they have any needs like for paper towels or even dog biscuits. Then, you can keep track of how much time you spend collecting, organizing and delivering the needed goods. Maybe you make signs and hang them in your building or local laundromat. Get creative, and keep track of your time and take photos to show your school what you were doing. When you drop off the donated goods, make sure you get a letter as proof for your school. Good luck! Also try the website for volunteer opportunities with animals.

Looking for Summer Volunteer work in Staten Island- 10312,10314

I am looking for volunteer work in Staten Island. I am very good with kids and can teach them, entertain them, read them books. I am very good with computers and can do office work. Apart from that my passion is filming, editing/directing.


My son is 13 years old and would like to volunteer at a animal shelter or any organization for children with special needs or nursing home. At this time he is willing to give back if possible.

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