14 Inspiring Volunteer Ideas for Kids and Teens

These impactful projects not only help others, they help students build important SEL skills.

volunteer opportunities

Teaching students to give back to their communities is essential in today’s world. Giving back instills hope in children that they can make the world a better place, one small project at a time. And as an added bonus, volunteer opportunities for kids teach important social emotional skills such as compassion, social awareness, relationship skills, leadership and more. 

So how can teachers make student volunteer opportunities truly meaningful? What’s going to ignite that spirit of giving in your students and make it stick? Ownership! When students participate in choosing and planning a service project, it provides them with a sense of purpose, and helps them strengthen their social emotional core. That’s why we have compiled our top volunteer opportunities for kids to help get you started.

And great news! You can earn a $250 grant to use toward your volunteer project simply by signing up for WE Volunteer Now. This free program has tools and resources to help get your volunteer project off the ground and will get your students excited about giving back!

Here, 14 awesome volunteer opportunities for your students to consider:

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids in Elementary School:

1. Send letters to soldiers far from home or to patients in the hospital.

Nothing warms the heart like a handwritten note from creative kids who love to show and spread joy! Talk to your students and identify an organization or group of people, such as a local children’s hospital or people serving in the military overseas that your students might like to write to. Discuss what makes a good pen pal and what your students might say and ask in their letters. Help your students understand why the group you’ve chosen would benefit from their words. Make letter writing fun and organize your efforts by setting up correspondence stations with awesome crafting and writing supplies.

Social-Emotional focus: Compassion Showing compassion for people experiencing challenges can be as simple as jotting a thoughtful note.

2. Host a Skate-a-Thon to fund a favorite cause.

Your school may have mastered the walk-a-thon, so why not mix it up with a (roller or ice) skate-a-thon? Talk to your students about what needs they see in the community and how a skate-a-thon can make a difference. Students can sign up to take pledges for time spent skating. They could also accept a flat donation for skating a set number of laps or just learning how to skate! Make sure that students who seek pledges prior to the event collect the money afterward. Remember, it’s not a race. Stay safe (helmets encouraged)! Your school community will have a blast! And in the process they’ll be compensated with the greatest reward: helping a good cause they selected.

Social-Emotional focus: Relationship Skills Not only will students use this event to give back, they will also build relational and social skills with their peers and community members.

3. Connect with a different generation. 

There are many volunteer opportunities that don’t require a a ton of money or effort. Sharing the gift of time and kindness with neighbors is simple and free. Take your students’ youthful spirit on the road with a trip to a local senior center or assisted living home. Pack some of your students’ favorite board games to share with the seniors. Then ask the seniors to share some classic games with your students. Kids will love playing checkers, backgammon, and card games. Have students help you create a playlist featuring some favorite tunes from today and yesterday. Nothing brings the generations together like music. The seniors will enjoy the company of your students, and the trip might be a chance for students who don’t have grandparents nearby to bond with older people.

Social-Emotional focus: Empathy Visiting seniors will teach students the value of the gift of their time, and deepen their ability to respond to the needs of others.

4. Pay a visit to some furry friends.

Gather your eager and excited elementary class and plan an afternoon at your local animal shelter! Once you’ve found a shelter that allows students to visit, ask if there are any supplies your class could help re-stock—often shelters are short on blankets, sheets and towels for bedding. Students can help with cleaning, brushing, organizing and, of course, giving some much-needed cuddles and play time to these animals. We’re not sure who will be more excited about this one—the kids, the animal shelter for the help, or the kitties and puppies.

Social-Emotional focus: Self-Esteem Students will feel empowered when they can quantify their volunteerism through manual actions that help the well-being of animals.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids in Middle School:

5. Tackle cyberbullying in creative ways.

Middle schoolers are no strangers to cyberbullying issues, but what they may not realize is that it’s happening in their own schools and to their classmates online. The Allstate Foundation empowered Abbey Sangerto establish the Diverse Gaming Coalition, a non-profit organization and a safe space for kids to talk about their cyberbullying experiences. The organization even made a comic book to share cyberbullying advice.

Inspired by this courageous story, you can work with your own students to set up a safe space to talk with their peers. Together, students can come up with creative solutions for cyberbullying. Students can discuss tactics to create safety and a welcoming online community.

Social-Emotional focus: Decision-Making Working to combat this issue will also help your students make responsible tech and social media decisions in their personal lives.

6. Sponsor a food drive.

volunteer opportunities

The USDA reports that 12.3 percent of American households are food insecure. This translates to 41 million people in the United States who have had difficulty at some time during the year in providing enough food for their family. There is a high likelihood that there are food insecure families in your local community, and probably even in your own school. 

Helping food insecure families is an important task, especially around the holidays. Help your students organize a food drive. Divide students into teams to tackle the logistics of the project. Tasks include getting the word out, setting up receptacles for receiving donations, sorting donations and transporting donations to a local food bank or families in need. Give students ownership for the project from start to finish.  

Social Emotional focus: Ethical Responsibility Lots of kids have no idea what it’s like to have a hungry belly. Educating them about the millions of people who do, and providing them with an opportunity to help, is a powerful lesson.

7. Collect cold weather essentials. 

volunteer opportunities

A sock, mitten and hat drive is a great way to bring warmth and kindness to shelters or donation centers that need supplies to distribute to community members. Drive enthusiasm by having shelter personnel visit the class and speak about how students’ efforts will impact lives and make a difference. Once you’ve collected donations, have a “Stuffing Saturday” with your volunteer middle schoolers. Fill the socks, mittens and hats with toiletries, snacks, water bottles or other requested items. Bus or carpool in groups to the centers, so the students can be the ones delivering these essential goods.

Social Emotional focus: Social Awareness Students will grasp that basic human needs are not always easily attainable by all members of society.

8. Donate your fashionable threads to a good cause. 

Kids struggling with a difficult home situation may have trouble with basics, such as school clothes that help them feel comfortable and confident. Students from Rock Island, Illinois, started Closet2Closet to help local homeless and foster kids build their wardrobes. Some of Closet2Closet’s team are former foster children themselves and speak out on issues related to older foster children. They have helped over 1,000 teens receive wardrobe assistance.

Your own middle schoolers can create a school-wide or online campaign to collect new and gently-used clothing from the student body. Kids will gather care packages of clothing and shoes for local students in need, offering them a wardrobe and confidence boost at the same time.

Social Emotional focus: Leadership When students take on a project that tackles community challenges, they will be empowered by their ability to bring positive change.

9. Spread joy through the power of books. 

Students can collect new or gently used books at school and donate them to a library, local community center or other school in need. Or even go international. Books for Africa gives donated fiction and nonfiction, textbooks, and library books from the U.S. to students of all ages across the continent.

You can also plan a literacy festival at a venue, complete with festive décor, hot chocolate, and cookies. It’s the perfect way to celebrate books, inspire a love of reading and meet new friends. Your student-volunteers can also set up donation boxes around campus and in the local community for collections leading up to the festival.

Social Emotional focus: Self-Regulation Sorting and classifying books takes self-regulation skills like planning and organization.

Volunteer Opportunities for Kids in High School:

10. Sponsor a classroom or school in need. 

Oftentimes when high school students study domestic poverty or see those in their country in great need in the news, they feel helpless. Talk to your students about those feelings in the context of your economics and social studies discussions, and also help them understand that they can make a difference.

Then as a class, select a classroom in need on DonorsChoose.org. Your students can see the needs listed by teachers and students, and together enact a strategy to fundraise or assist their chosen project. Students can choose a school or classroom in their local area, or elsewhere in an area affected by natural disaster, or facing the greatest need. This project may even inspire you to set up your own Donors Choose project!

Social Emotional focus: Philanthropy Inspiring students to make an economic difference in another classroom from start to finish will be a skill they can take into adulthood.   

11. Donate old phones and other tech to groups in need. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 82% of tossed old electronics—TVs, CDs, MP3 players, cell phones, etc.—end up in landfills. Many high school students go through old technology fairly quickly, and sometimes their parents have boxes of old tech, too. Help students organize a day for people to drop off their old technology and then plan to deliver what they’ve collected to a local domestic violence shelter, children’s hospital, or senior center.

Can’t find a local organization that needs your items? Have your teens set up an eBay page to sell the collected goods. Then, through eBay’s Giving Works page, you can auction your goods and donate all of the proceeds to Secure the Call or to the organization of your choice.

Social Emotional focus: Environmental Awareness Students will experience helping the Earth as well as those in need.

12. Round up sports equipment for local teams.

Most kids either play a sport or have tried one in the past. And it’s likely that their old equipment is sitting in their parents’ attic or garage. Time for a purge! Organize a drive for that old equipment and give it to a local organization that is in need of gently used sports gear.  Check out Level the Playing Field, located in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas. Or inquire at your local teen centers, like the YMCA and the Boys and Girls Club.

Before donating the items, host an “Indoor Olympic Games”—think indoor soccer, floor hockey, volleyball, whiffle ball, etc.—at the venue! Want to throw a really great party? Get the school band to throw an epic halftime show and generate spirit throughout the day; invite the school community to cheer on everyone.

Social Emotional focus: Community Building A love for sports or another hobby can be a common thread between people who seem different from them.

13. Spring forward with a tree planting extravaganza. 

A tree planting and park cleanup committee is the perfect way to give students a green thumbs-up for the Earth. Organize a tree planting project with the Arbor Day Foundation. If it’s not quite planting season, you can plan ahead. Or join forces with a community project already underway. Happy planting!

Social Emotional focus: Environmental Action A simple act like planting trees can change our world’s health and prosperity.

14. Raise awareness about responsible gift giving.

One powerful way for teens to make an impact is to encourage people to shop in a socially conscious way. WE Charity has put together a gift catalog that helps people donate money to worthwhile causes. Some examples include equipping a farmer with a beehive and beekeeping training so they can produce and sell honey, providing financial literacy training for women in poverty, and sponsoring essential vaccinations for underprivileged children. 

Teens can raise funds in order to contribute. They can spread the word about alternative gift giving by creating pamphlets and posters directing givers to the catalog. Teams of students can man collection tables at lunchtime. Others can put together a presentation for a school assembly or your school’s family night. Once funds are collected they can work collaboratively to choose projects that they find most meaningful. 

Social Emotional focus: Teamwork

Spearheading a fundraising activity requires a complex set of skills. But the good news is, projects like these lend themselves to people with different abilities. Allowing your students to contribute in the way that best fits them builds self-awareness. 

Everyone knows that when we help others, we get as much out of it as the person we’re helping. Giving back not only helps make the world a better place. It helps people develop into caring, compassionate human beings who are aware of the world around them. And what could be better than that?

And don’t forget! You can earn a $250 grant to help you plan and execute your volunteer idea of choice – made possible by The Allstate Foundation. 700 volunteer projects will be selected on a first-come, first-served basis. Simply sign up for WE Volunteer Now. It’s a free school campaign that will give you tons of resources to get a volunteer project started.

 

Posted by Jenn Horton

Jenn is an editor for WeAreTeachers and SchoolLeadersNow. She used to work for Oprah for over a decade, teaching folks to "Live Their Best Lives" online and in real life...and she continues to try that herself too (mostly). Her work has appeared on WebMD, CNN, Amazon and various online publications. She lives in Chicago with her husband and two kiddos.

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