In Star Wars, Luke Skywalker is trying to save the universe, but who is he really trying to save? Princess Leia, am I right?
The way we see it, saving the universe is great and all, especially since we live there, but it’s also a daunting task. Saving Princess Leia—much more manageable. This same approach applies to altruism. Wherever you turn, you can always find a future princess or prince who could use a hand to help them fulfill their true potential—and destiny.
Do. Or do not. There’s no try.
This year, Greta Thundberg was our real-life Luke Skywalker. Her moral clarity inspired other young people around the world to get involved and help save the universe. How’d she do it? With a yellow raincoat and a solar panel equipped racing yacht, Greta created a global attitudinal shift that empowered youth and reminded adults that “We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow.” She has even been named TIME’s Person of the Year 2019.
Greta is just one of the many Generation Zs hungry to make a difference in the world. Comprising 25% of the total US population, 71% of Generation Z said they believe the phrase, “If you want it done right, then do it yourself.” Former Vice President Al Gore, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his climate advocacy work, reminds us “Throughout history, many great morally based movements have gained traction at the very moment when young people decided to make that movement their cause.”
Strike While the Iron Is Hot
How do we initiate opportunities for children and teens to devote their time, energy, and creativity toward making a difference in their local community? Finding a cause isn’t tough; scores of opportunities exist and organizations need socially conscious and motivated volunteers. Below are a few great ways to start giving kids perspective on their innate power to create positive social change:
- Allow them to see the realities of the world: The world isn’t all fun memes and cat videos. The dark side can be quite shocking. Many children have no concept of their good fortune to live in a comfortable home rather than on the streets or in other dangerous places. You don’t need to shock them, but you can let them know that not everyone is as fortunate.
- Work with children to discover a cause they can get behind: Children, like adults, have their preferred activities: sports, technology, music, arts, and animals. We should initiate discussions to figure out how young people can perform volunteer activities doing the things they love to do.
- Get the family involved: What we do is much more important than what we say as children often emulate our behavior. It’s our responsibility to model the behavior we want to see from our kids by getting the entire family involved in volunteer projects. This will increase a child’s natural interest in social causes.
Volunteering Opportunities for Kids
Once you’ve cultivated an attitude of social change, it’s time to move beyond your immediate surroundings and connect with other like-minded individuals in your community.
Children’s volunteering benefits everyone! Through volunteering, youth learn to:
- Respect others
- Be helpful and kind
- Understand people who are different from themselves
- Develop leadership skills
- Become more patient
- Gain a better understanding of good citizenship
Don’t forget, volunteering at an early age can create positive life behaviors. Children who volunteer are three times more likely to volunteer as adults. Steady volunteering, even at a minimum of one hour a week, reduces negative behaviors.
There are plenty of local nonprofits who are always in need of help. Here are a few ideas for volunteering opportunities for kids to help get you started:
- Cloud 901 (Teen Learning Lab at the Memphis Public Library) – Available times: Monday-Thursday 3– 8 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday 1 – 6 p.m. Assist with training, mentoring and facilitating technology classes in out teen learning center. Must have a strong background in technology & equipment usage.
- Dorothy Day House – This amazing place keeps homeless families together. Your children will meet other children who are homeless and it’s an incredible volunteer experience. Families are welcome.
- First Congregational Church – Monday through Friday, from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M. Serve a free hot lunch to people who may need it. Volunteers also assist with moving supplies.
- Friends for Life-1st Monday Dinner Volunteers – 1st Monday of every month, 5:30 – 7:45 p.m. Prepare and serve hot, nutritious dinners to HIV positive clients and their caregivers.
- Habitat for Humanity Restore – Sort and organize donations, stock shelves, assist customers, test appliances and electronics, and much more.
- Humane Society of Memphis and Shelby County – Help with multiple tasks such as caring for animals and helping animals find a new home!
- Meals on Wheels – You must have a driver’s license OR come with someone who has a driver’s license. The program allows you to go around Memphis and deliver food to people in need.
- Memphis Botanic Garden (MBG) – The garden thrives through the time and energy of their volunteers! MBG offers a variety of seasonal and year-round volunteer opportunities to suit your interests, skill level, and schedule. These include opportunities in areas such as education, horticulture, and more!
- Memphis Farmers Market – Give back to your community by supporting local farmers, producers, and artisans, while educating market visitors about healthy eating habits, good nutrition, and the benefits of “eating fresh and local.” Whether you’re interested in serving on one of our numerous committees, or you’d rather roll up your sleeves, “dig in the dirt,” and plow into ‘fun on the farm’ on market-day Saturdays, the Memphis Farmers Market has a spot for you!
- Memphis Public Library and Information Center – The Memphis Public Library & Information Center has a wide array of volunteer opportunities. Currently, there are almost 500 volunteers who assist the Library in a wide variety of tasks. During this past year, volunteers were vital to the Library’s mission of satisfying the customers’ need to know. Current openings include Welcome Desk, Bookstore, Computer Assistant, Radio Reader, Docent, Branch Shelving Assistant, Office or Data Entry, Memphis and Shelby County Room, and Genealogy Assistant.
- Memphis Zoo – The Memphis Zoo has various volunteering opportunities including interns, group volunteers, family volunteers, special event volunteers, general volunteers, and docents. These volunteering opportunities have different skills, time, and age requirements. Some allow you to assist with zookeeping duties while some allow you to help in directing and guiding visitors.
- Methodist Summer Volunteer – This summer program offers hands-on experience for 15- to 17-year-olds who want to learn more about the healthcare industry while giving back. Information and the special application for this program are posted each year in April.
- Mid-South Food Bank – Perform tasks related to the collection, organization, and delivery of food. Jobs include sorting through canned food donations, bagging food donations, as well as getting out and encouraging the public to donate.
- National Civil Rights Museum – Volunteers are needed on the weekend as greeters and exhibit monitors from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. Responsibilities include assisting guests, directing groups, and providing Museum information with a friendly attitude.
- Room in the Inn – Help serve dinner and help the homeless in the community settle down for the evening. Kids can also help with simple tasks like making the beds for the guests.
- St Mary’s Soup Kitchen – Prepare and serve food and clothes. Anyone can sign up to volunteer for a certain date and time.
- Sister Reach Youth Ambassadors (SYA) – The Youth Ambassadors are made up of a group of 13 to 17 years old who are passionate about reproductive justice, policy, and peer mentoring. Meetings are held every other week on Wednesdays from 4 pm until 6 pm and Saturdays from 2 pm until 4 pm.
- STS Enterprise Corporation – Designed to create volunteer opportunities for youth and college students to give back to the Memphis Community, STS is dedicated to cultivating wiser, more disciplined and productive young men and women.
- Veterans Affairs – Receive valuable experience and training that will be of benefit when applying for college and jobs. Students who volunteer are eligible for scholarship opportunities from the James H. Parke Memorial Youth Scholarship Award.
- YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South – YMCA offers 3 volunteer programs specifically for youth. The Youth And Government program provides high school students a unique hands-on experience with international, national and state issues. The Community Action Program redirects youth behavior by teaching values and rebuilding families. The Teen Achievers program helps teens of color set and pursue high educational and career goals resulting in high school graduation and acceptance into and graduation from an institution of higher learning, and successful entry into a career of their choosing.
The Force will be with you. Always.
If none of these options tickle your fancy, head over to Volunteer Memphis or Volunteer Odyssey for customized volunteer recommendations. They provide access to opportunities that connect volunteers with schools, parks, and nonprofits that need your help. All you have to do is sign-up, show up, and be a change-maker for our community!