How to get your teenager to volunteer

By on October 6, 2021 0


greliving is an important endeavor at any age, but for teens on the road to independence, it is invaluable. Helping others allows teens to tap into their own value system in a way that is meaningful to them, giving them purpose. And with so many teens feeling disconnected during the pandemic, volunteering offers them an authentic way to connect with their community.

Additionally, volunteer work offers powerful mental health benefits as well as physical ones. According to research published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, helping others improves heart health and lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease. The bottom line: volunteering is beneficial from all points of view. If you want to help your teens get involved by giving back, but you’re not sure where to start, read on for suggestions on local organizations where they can donate their time and skills.


Volunteering helps cultivate empathy, builds resilience and fosters gratitude, says Margaret DeLong Psy.D., licensed psychologist in Long Valley and author of Feeling Good: Thirty-Five Proven Ways To Be Happy, Even In Difficult Times. “It also promotes social interactions and helps create meaningful relationships. She recommends finding simple ways to give back that are personally meaningful. For example, if your teenager enjoys playing soccer, he or she might like to volunteer to help out with a league for children with special needs.

When it comes to giving back, parents should be active role models for their children. “An important ingredient in creating an appetite for volunteering is for children to see it in their own families,” says Rosalind Dorlen, Psy.D., a freelance psychology practitioner at Summit and an associate professional staff member in the Department of Psychiatry at Overlook Hospital. “The family provides the rich soil for volunteering to flourish. It is really good for children to help others. Not just for them to be grateful for what they have, but for them to realize that there is intrinsic value in providing support to others.


Volunteering time is a great way for teens to give back. “The kids could visit a senior center or a veterans hospital,” DeLong says. “If a child notices trash on the side of the road, they could do a community cleanup. As a family, they could volunteer in a soup kitchen or in a homeless shelter.

Alternatively, teens with a specific talent can donate their resources. For example, “a high school student may teach lessons to a younger student who may be having difficulty,” she says.

Offering their care and attention is an option, either by physically visiting people confined to their homes or by bringing them artisanal products. “They could send letters, bracelets, or something fun to kids who are in the long-term hospital, or a care kit to someone in the community who might be struggling,” says DeLong.

Finally, teens can donate money or goods. They can cook a meal for someone going through a rough patch or call their local pantry to see what items might be low, suggests DeLong. This way, they shop with intention instead of just grabbing random items from the pantry to donate.

No matter how your teenager chooses to give back, the key is that it makes sense to them. “When it’s meaningful and connected to their personal lives, it’s more special, and it also makes them more likely to keep doing it,” says DeLong.

Local resources your teen can use to get started:

NJ Community FoodBank
Volunteers work to collect donations into boxes of food to distribute to those in need. Adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 must be accompanied by an adult and be fully immunized.

Jersey cares
By connecting volunteers with local opportunities, Jersey Cares identifies ways for young adults to give back, from tutoring to school mural painting. Visit the site for a calendar of current opportunities and to sign up to give back.

NJ Humane Society
Teenagers who are passionate about animals can donate cash, dog and cat food, or other essentials.

New Jersey students in action
It is a “youth service, leadership and recognition program” that helps young people increase their capacity to volunteer in school and in the community.

NJ VOAD (Volunteer Organizations active in disaster situations)
This group works to connect volunteers with people affected by disasters such as fires, storms and the homeless.

Red Cross, New Jersey
Offering opportunities to contribute financially, donate blood or become a volunteer, the Red Cross is a great way for teens to help others in need.

United Way of Northern NJ
With volunteer opportunities, organized donations, local events, and advocacy opportunities, teens can take part in a cause they believe in. They currently offer a program recognizing high school students who have made “an exceptional commitment to their community through their volunteer work over the past year” called the United Way Varsity Letter.

South Jersey Volunteer Center
This organization connects volunteers with local non-profit organizations. The goal is to match aid with a non-profit organization that needs the resources.

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