While your teen is probably more interested in old television reruns than cleaning last month’s gym socks out of his closet, you can still teach him about responsibility by sparking his enthusiasm in community service projects that appeal to his interests. With the right fit, he’ll learn about generosity, selflessness and moral character -- but you might still have to call in a remediation team to clear out the gym socks.
1. Helping Out
If your teenager tends to be a homebody, she can begin project-seeking close to home by looking for people she can help in her own neighborhood, such as an elderly couple. She can offer to help them with mowing the lawn or other tasks they may struggle with, such as snow shoveling and gardening. Alternatively, if your teen doesn’t have any difficulties branching out, encourage her to look further for a cause or opportunity that suits her particular interests, such as volunteering at an animal shelter or children's organization. She could visit and play games with the elderly in long-term care or the terminally ill who need companionship. Look around for organizations that help with renovation projects for low-income families if she’s good with tools, or have your teen take part in an after-school program for kids teaching literacy or other talents she possesses.
2. Collection Projects
Local shelters and food banks are always in need of more supplies and there are organizations that collect supplies for victims of natural disasters all over the world, too. Your teen can go door to door in his neighborhood, hang fliers asking for donations -- an opportunity to introduce him to graphic design -- or donate his time directly to the organization, sorting and distributing items. He can also talk to his school's administrative staff about putting a box in the lobby and advertising for the students and teachers to bring non-perishables, clothing or toys for the box. Encourage him to talk to local churches' leadership about placing boxes there and mentioning it at services, or talk to local grocers and stores and see if they would be interested in donating in any way. He can collect for a cause using whichever method he's comfortable with to donate to the appropriate organization.
3. Green and Beautification Projects
Encourage your environmentally friendly teen to sign up with a tree-planting project or clean up at a local park, or inquire with the city or local environmental groups about where she can help the most. Talk to local stores about donating plants, paint and other supplies, or help her get involved in a project to repaint park benches or children's play equipment that has paint peeling or is covered in graffiti. She can call up friends and invite neighbors to make it an event, and let local businesses and the media know to raise awareness or donate supplies. Plan to pick up trash at parks or along a nearby river or roadway, or help clean up a low-income neighborhood and try to get the residents involved. Your teen could talk to her school about setting up a recycling program or even work in the community, spreading pamphlets to increase awareness about recycling.
4. Physical Projects
Your teen can work up a sweat for a good cause by raising money for a favorite charity through marathons, walk-a-thons or even triathlons. He can even organize his own, encouraging friends, family, athletes on his sports team and fellow school students to be involved. Get donations from family and friends and talk to local businesses to see if they would be willing to sponsor the event or pledge for the cause. If you have any connections to a local college sports team, such as through an older sibling, have your teen try to get them on board for hosting a playoff between his high school team and the college team or mixed teams of both. Make it a charity event and advertise to friends, family, faculty and students at both schools. Sell tickets as well as concessions with all proceeds going to the chosen cause.
- The Kid's Guide to Service Projects: Over 500 Service Ideas for Young People Who Want to Make a Difference; Barbara A. Lewis
- Teenagers and Community Service: A Guide to the Issues; Maureen Kenny, et al.
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