Believe it or not, teenagers have the highest rate of volunteering.
Joining us to talk about it more in the studio is Monica Williams with Giving City Austin.
According to the 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in every four American teenagers between 16 and 19 years old volunteered. Experts attribute the rise in youth volunteering - and the decline in youth working - to the more competitive academic landscape that pushes volunteering over work.
Indeed, when you look at listings for volunteer opportunities, many include language around tracking hours or providing proof of their community service. In the meantime, fewer teens are looking for actual jobs.
So today, teen volunteering opportunities are competitive.
For the most prestigious volunteer jobs, there are applications and letters of recommendation required, and often interviews as if they were applying for a job.
The hard truth is unless your teen is part of an organized group like scouts, a church youth group or other, they may not have the opportunity to join a more advanced volunteering program that requires some amount of volunteering experience.
So what happened to volunteering because you want to help people?
We've created volunteering opportunities that serve volunteers rather than a social need.
But there's a way to go back to volunteering for good, and it's actually really simple - and a great motivation tool: Show teens how they made a difference. Rather than documenting how many hours a teen worked, it's up to volunteer organizers to document what difference the teen made in the community.
If you're a teenager volunteering, you can add more meaning to your experience, too.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Be a reliable volunteer.
Just because you're not getting paid doesn't mean people aren't counting on you. Be as responsible as you would if it were a paying job. Nonprofits are serious about creating great volunteer opportunities; make sure teens and young people show respect for the time and energy put into that and act just like they would if it were a paying job. That means following directions, safety precautions and doing the job right.
- Bring your creativity.
Sometimes teens (and adults, for that matter) expect that everything be perfectly lined up for them to accomplish the work they've volunteered to do. While that's not always the case, don't think of it as a shortcoming by the organizers, rather think of it as an opportunity to put your skills to work. A positive, helpful attitude will help you use your creativity to problem solve - and isn't that more fun than just following instructions?
- Be ready to lead.
Your group's organizer may have lots to do to make your experience a success, so go ahead and ask what help they might need to make sure you're both getting out of it what you need. Remember that a leader isn't a "take charge" person, rather they're a "how can I help?" person who lifts up others and helps everyone see the bigger picture.
- Bring a friend.
Everything's more fun with someone to share it with. If you can't bring a friend, make a friend.