This post is written by Simone Bernstein, a sophomore at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, N.Y., co-founder of Volunteen Nation with her brother, Jake.
Connected is one of my favorite words. So it is no wonder that being a volunteer helps me feel connected to my community. During high school, I was an avid volunteer at a local crisis nursery shelter for young children. I was invited, along with many of my peers, to join their Junior Board. The St. Louis Crisis Junior Board is comprised of young people (high school and college students) finding ways to promote the organization and assist with fundraisers for the agency. Junior Board members volunteer in the nursery with the children, help out at events and conduct their own smaller functions to benefit the Crisis Nursery Junior Board. It was an incredible opportunity for me to get involved, brainstorm, problem solve, and meet and share ideas with other dynamic youth volunteers. Teen advisory boards give youth a voice and demonstrate that adults are interested in hearing our ideas and suggestions. I was fortunate to find out about this volunteer and Junior Board opportunity from my neighbor. Yet, I was frustrated that it was so difficult to find volunteer opportunities for high school and middle school youth.
My brother and I searched online and realized there were limited opportunities for youth to volunteer on-site, since many organizations and nonprofit agencies had age restrictions due to safety, security and liability concerns. There was no regional website dedicated to youth volunteers. So my brother and I contacted local organizations that offered youth volunteer opportunities and encouraged others to create youth volunteer programs. We organized a regional website to make it easier for area youth to explore local volunteer opportunities. The success of the website inspired us to host an annual St. Louis Youth and Family Volunteer Fair and days of service for youth and families. The regional website serves as a resource for area schools, youth groups and nonprofit organizations.
We knew there were incredible opportunities for youth to volunteer throughout the United States at local libraries, serving on mayors’ youth advisory councils and at local hospitals, so we decided to create a national website for youth to explore and share volunteer opportunities in their communities and to encourage nonprofit agencies to find ways to include youth and families as volunteers. Every library, food bank and shelter can find ways to include youth volunteers. Youth want to get involved. VolunTEENnation.org wants America’s teens to give back to the community. To do this, Volunteen Nation is challenging every organization and American corporation to add a volunteer opportunity for teens to the site within the first 100 days.