Summer is a perfect season to volunteer

Kai Hagen

June 10, 2004

Most of us won't be required to write an essay in September about what we did on our summer vacation. For many of us, it would be a pretty short essay, anyway, as most of our summer is not a vacation.

With an average of just 13 vacation days a year, the typical American is lucky to have a week or two at the beach, Yellowstone Park, Disneyland or whatever they have been planning and looking forward to since last summer.

And so, as the school year comes to a close, parents who will be working through most of the next 2 1/2 months before classes start again find themselves scrambling to find interesting, worthwhile and affordable things for their kids to do.

Local publications have been overflowing with advertisements for all sorts of organized activities and other diversions. And no doubt, many hours, days and even weeks will be filled with sports, Scouts, summer camps, and even summer school.

Before you fill out the calendar, however, you might also take a good look at the many and varied volunteer opportunities out there. As you might guess, there's no shortage of organizations and institutions in Frederick County that are more than willing and able to provide structured and supervised ways for teenagers, and even pre-teens, to contribute their time and energy and talents to something worthwhile.

Admittedly, your son or daughter might not consider it "volunteering" if you volunteer them. That's not a reason not to do it, though, but rather a good reason to select something carefully, to identify meaningful tasks that provide rewarding experiences.

There may never have been a time when well-organized volunteer opportunities were more abundant or varied. There is truly something for everyone, regardless of age or interest or the amount of time available. Whether you're looking for something to fill an hour a week or a few hours a day, something inside or outdoors, there are many options.

Depending on your child's interests, there are opportunities to work with animals or art, kids or seniors, political campaigns or church programs, trail maintenance or environmental restoration, tutoring or assistant coaching. You name it.

Ultimately, it isn't about finding busy work. The best reasons to volunteer are about giving, about contributing something of value to others and to the broader community in which we live.

Volunteerism plays a vital role in a civilized society. Without the substantial commitment of voluntary time and talent by people everywhere, the quality of life in our community would be greatly diminished. Our community organizations, nonprofit institutions, schools, churches, athletic leagues, civic associations and more, depend on the continuing support and involvement of volunteers.

The need for volunteers is genuine. The impact and value of volunteer work is inestimable.

And the rewards of volunteering are real, even if often intangible. The benefits of volunteering accrue in both directions. Students who volunteer broaden their experience and develop a greater awareness of the larger community. They are exposed to new career possibilities, develop new skills and make new friends. Volunteers are usually appreciated and recognized for their contributions, which builds self-esteem. Students who volunteer for a worthy cause learn they can make a difference.

Being involved in volunteer activities has even been proven to decrease a teenager's chances of engaging in risk-taking behaviors. For example, it reduces the probability of a teen pregnancy and increases the chance for high school graduation.

Practically speaking, it's also worth noting that many job applications and every college application asks about volunteer experience. Colleges consider volunteer experience a real asset and it can help distinguish and give an edge to an application.

You may already know about some opportunities around you. But, if you don't, or you'd like to explore the full range of possibilities, there are organizations ready to help. Nowadays, that help can even include assistance with transportation and other issues that might need to be resolved.

One such organization is Volunteer Frederick!, a local organization that supports volunteerism in Frederick County by connecting people with opportunities. You can visit its Web site at, or call 301-663-5214.

To get in touch, e-mail Kai Hagen at