Teens can volunteer the summer blahs away
By Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.
It's only July, but your teen already has hit the "there's nothing to do" wall. This is the perfect opportunity to suggest volunteer work.
Volunteering offers structure, fulfillment, personal growth and fun. A teen can volunteer for as many or as few hours as he likes and in about any area--from painting a garage or planting flowers for an elderly neighbor to joining a fund-raising committee. Your child may find that through volunteering, he can:
• Develop skills. From life skills to job skills, volunteer activity will teach your teen something. He may learn how to communicate with a supervisor, have compassion for the elderly, get a child to stop crying, manage his time or even choose a career.
• Make a good impression. Potential employers as well as college admissions counselors are impressed by teens who volunteer. Giving of your time and energy without compensation demonstrates selflessness, responsibility, and a true desire to work and learn. Doing a good job in a volunteer position also gives teens the chance to impress professionals who may be willing to write letters of reference or even offer them a job.
• Build self-esteem. At an age when they are hungry for a positive self-image, volunteering gives teens a chance to feel a sense of accomplishment as well as self-worth. They will feel good about sticking to a job and good because they gave of themselves. Volunteering allows them to send themselves positive messages about who they are and what they can do.
• Get outside of himself. Adolescents often are in an "I am the world" ego state. They may have trouble considering anyone else's feelings and they may have trouble keeping themselves from becoming overwhelmed by intense emotions. Volunteer work puts their mind on someone else's needs.
• Learn to give without expecting anything in return. Teaching children to give of themselves instills altruism--an unselfish interest in the welfare of others. This benefits the child as he feels the warmth that comes only from giving from his heart. It benefits society as he becomes a compassionate person and carries those skills into all of his relationships. He learns that giving, more than income or even education, will make his life richer and happier.
• Contribute to the good of society. Any act of kindness makes the world better. Poverty, hunger, pain and loneliness are diminished through the acts of individual people and all of society benefits. Let your child know how important his individual contribution is.
• Counteract violence. Today's kids encounter violence in their schools and neighborhoods, on television and in movies. They play video games that give them practice in performing violent acts and raising their own levels of fear and aggression. Teens can help counteract this message of violence with acts of kindness.
Don't be discouraged if your teen feels he has no special skills. According to Jill Alfrejd, director of community resources at the United Way of Lake County, volunteer coordinators are trained to take any teen and find a place for him. "Everyone has something to offer," she stresses. Also, since more people think about volunteering during the winter holiday season, the need for volunteers increases during the summer, making this the perfect time for your teen to help.
Where to volunteer Community Resource Network (312) 906-2425 www.chicagovolunteer.net
Volunteer Center of United Way, Lake County (847) 775-1036 www.uwlakeco.org
Volunteer Center of United Way, Will County (815) 723-8510 www.unitedwaywillcounty.org
Volunteer Center of Lake Forest/Lake Bluff (847) 234-8876 www.volunteerlflb.org
Volunteer Center of McHenry County (815) 344-3555 firstname.lastname@example.org
The Volunteer Center, Oak Park (708) 386-3393 www.oprfvolunteercenter.org
The Volunteer Center of DuPage (630) 682-7000 www.dupageco.org/humanr/volunteer/index.asp
Volunteer Center of New Trier Township (847) 441-7665 www.volunteercenterntt.org
Volunteer Center, Northwest Suburbs (847) 228-1320 www.tvcrsvp.org
For areas not listed, call: (800) VOLUNTEERSLisa Schab is a licensed clinical social worker and the stepmother of two, ages 19 and 23. She can be reached at (847) 782-1722.