What are some "community service" projects?
October 11, 2021 6:14 PM   Subscribe

For the 8th my son has to do community service hours for graduation. I have a couple suggestions but I want it to be something he is inspired by so I am looking for ideas that might not occur to me. What are community service project ideas that a young teen can do?
posted by beccaj to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It might be helpful to give the number of hours.

This list of possible Eagle Scout projects might give you some ideas.
posted by FencingGal at 6:30 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I wont thread sit -- but hours required are more than 10.

And thanks for the list, Fencing Gal, I did get a couple ideas, but the majority of those Eagle scout projects and ones I've known needed a team and a lot of adult help.

Other than having to drive him places, I'd like this to be all him.
posted by beccaj at 6:37 PM on October 11

Collecting blankets and towels for Humane Society or another adoption agency. My middle school girl scouts did that by setting up collection spots and advertising them within their communities.
posted by metahawk at 6:38 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

He might be able to join in on an existing volunteer program. Try Volunteer Match to see if they have any appropriate listings.
posted by metahawk at 6:41 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

Working in a library or community center? Trail or park maintenance? Snow shoveling or leaf raking for an elderly community member? Crafting fleece throws for hospitalized kids?
posted by Sukey Says at 6:51 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

What are his interests? Could he read to younger kids at the library? Help out with a younger sports group? Organize a street or neighborhood food drive and collection? Create a mini little library style food pantry? Trail maintenue days if he likes hiking?
posted by raccoon409 at 6:56 PM on October 11

If he’s the academic type with a knack for explaining things, providing free tutoring to families who can’t afford it can be a real lifesaver.
posted by corey flood at 6:57 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

This is of those “complete the required hours” sort of things, not one where he needs to plan and execute an event? Not all of these are Covid compatible, but they worked for me and my friends in a similar situation.

- Sorting and packaging canned goods at a food pantry
- Sorting donations at a nonprofit thrift store
- Teaching musical instrument lessons to middle schoolers who couldn’t afford lessons
- Volunteering at community festivals and seasonal events (Easter egg hunts, neighborhood fall festival, etc)
- Trick or Treat for UNICEF
- Volunteer at a library
- Volunteer at an animal shelter (usually has a min age)
- Singing Christmas carols at a retirement home
posted by A Blue Moon at 7:20 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]

Build and stock a little free library, especially if it is placed where needed more.
posted by NotLost at 7:21 PM on October 11 [4 favorites]

As someone who's spent some time in nursing homes lately, I would say that volunteering to be sociable at a senior center could mean a lot. Reading the news or books out loud, playing cards and checkers--just having people around to talk to might be really nice, if he's a sociable sort.

At the library, we never had as much use for volunteers as we had volunteers offering, but the Friends of the Library often needed help moving boxes. And if he's tech savvy, my friend has a son that age who did a bunch of research for stuff we wanted to post on ebay (looking up old books and how much they were selling for).

The trick about that is that those positions aren't out there advertising; you need to know someone who needs the help. If you know anyone involved in any community service organizations, let them know he's looking and what he's good at.
posted by gideonfrog at 7:45 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

I’d get a list of what his interests are and go from there. Animals? Try volunteering at a wildlife centre or dog shelter. If he likes kids, he could volunteer at a hospital or maybe he’s into building things and can work in a recycling centre repairing furniture that would otherwise get thrown away. You get the idea.
posted by Jubey at 7:46 PM on October 11

A what a cool question! I got a lot out of doing Meals On Wheels when I was young: not everyone was happy to see me, but over time we developed rapport that was meaningful to me. I haven’t thought about that in years, but it strikes me as being deeply important to me, because it helped me practice an important aspect of humility - that no one owes you thanks or pleasantness for helping them.

A suggestion you may already be considering! This feels like a great opportunity to instill or help him discover his values about helping other people. For example, making a commitment to an org or cause for a functional length of time, rather than just to meet the minimum required hours. Since volunteer orgs struggle to find reliable people, he might think about how much he can give so that the org can rely on him - and so he can build skills in being responsible and building relationships with the people he’s helping with his time.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 7:53 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

We have a lot of kids here that have community service requirements and these are some types of things they do.

1. Working with organizations which already have volunteers that do good in the community - food shelf, humane society, soup kitchen, library (some can handle this sort of thing and some can't) and be a person with a regular shift in this sort of situation.

2. Be a younger person in a situation where being a younger person may be helpful (dog walking, baby sitting, helping people who could use that help do seasonally-appropriate things like rake leaves, winterize houses, mow lawns, technology stuff if he's good at that) and have more big-effort type things over some chunks of weekends.

3. Help an organization that has a backlogged project get up to speed on it. When I was doing this in college I helped a local folklore organization index and organize their back catalog (I am a librarian) which was fun for me and really useful for them. Maybe there is a local org that has a project-based need that he could help at and take some level of leadership with? Paint a building, clean a basement, scan old newsletters, distribute... something?
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 PM on October 11 [1 favorite]

Just because nobody’s mentioned it, and because it came as a surprise to both her and me, a high school student I was directing in a community theater project found out she could use it as her community service for a similar requirement.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:21 PM on October 11 [2 favorites]

Fui quod es, eris quod sum” Connecting teens and elders is important. We'd love to find a teen to get the wheelie-bin of my aged FiL to to curbside early every Weds: it's worth €2 a go & a nice little earner if several elders are bundled into a bin-round. Meals on Wheels is also a great suggestion from rrrrrrrrt. You can learn a lot from old people who aren't family.
posted by BobTheScientist at 11:00 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

My oldest liked fish and the outdoors so when I was at a book fair, the local Trout Unlimited had a tiny space, and they were happy to have help for live fish delivery and teaching kids about fish, fishing, and the environment-he racked up 30 hours over 3 weekends. In many ways this is a +1 to matching interest to local needs.
posted by childofTethys at 11:05 PM on October 11

If your town has a Senior Center, he could call and ask to help out there. Same for the town library.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:38 AM on October 12

I started volunteering at a hospital when I was 14, basically running errands all over the hospital to save the nurses some time. I'm sure it depends on the hospital and which ward you're on but I was running food trays, offering water to patients (and often just talking with them), making up beds/rooms for new arrivals, and running samples to and from the lab. I did not become a doctor or nurse (everyone will ask that) but I enjoyed it and volunteered until my senior year of high school.
posted by saramour at 6:36 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

One of the Eagle Scouts in my city built a "Little Sled Library" at the top of the best sledding hill in town. Then he then arranged a Sled Drive in which people donated sleds. It was a big hit! I think he wound up with more than he needed - the Lions offered to house the Sled Library and extra sleds in the off-season, and they are making another Sled Library for another local hill.

YMMV: must have good snow and hills for this to work.
posted by Gray Duck at 7:17 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

If there are any non-profit arts organizations in your area, I can guarantee that they would love some help! Especially if they have a ceramics studio …. It’s really important to keep everything super clean to avoid silicosis, but no one likes mopping the floor and wiping down surfaces.
So volunteering just to help clean the studio would be appreciated.
posted by Ostara at 7:59 AM on October 12

Google "mutual aid" + your area. Lots of mutual aid groups got started at the beginning of covid and are now short on volunteers. The one in my neighborhood, for instance, needs more people right now to sort food for distribution, deliver groceries to home-bound neighbors, and keep the local free fridge clean and organized.
posted by EmilyFlew at 8:34 AM on October 12 [1 favorite]

I fulfilled my community service requirement in High School by helping out at a soup kitchen for a few weeks (not during Thanksgiving) and being a teacher's assistant to my school's Lower School cooking class that took place as an afterschool program.

I really enjoyed both for very different reasons. The soup kitchen really drilled into my head how my city has let so many people fall through the cracks and how important a robust social safety net is to a society. On the other hand, assisting the little kids as they made bacon wrapped water chestnuts was just relaxing and fun.

Does the school have a list of approved programs by any chance? That would be a good starting place to gauge your child's interests (sorry if you already have that covered)
posted by Julnyes at 9:36 AM on October 12

If you're located in the U.S., I want to caution you that many places have strict age requirements and/or require parental supervision for underage volunteers. So, don't get discouraged if you call several places and are turned down outright; you and your son might need to get creative!
posted by cooker girl at 10:19 AM on October 12

It also might be helpful to see if the school keeps a list of what folks have done in the past. I bring this up, because it is location-dependent on what orgs/opportunities will accept individuals < 16 as short term volunteers without parental/adult supervision. I think there's a reason why trail maintenance/ food banks/ supply drives are the stereotypical answers to this question (especially with the added complication of Covid).

If there is a critical mass of 8th graders who need to do this in your area, there may be orgs that offer specific opportunities for this purpose.

If community service includes civic engagement, then perhaps there are some opportunities there (e.g. get out the vote). If he is proficient on a musical instrument (or has another talent to share), perhaps he could perform for senior citizens. Another group of individuals in need are foster youth. There also may be some remote social media opportunities. (e.g.)
posted by oceano at 10:19 AM on October 12

My oldest did a lot of community service in college. She was with a service oriented group but here are some of the things they did that haven't been mentioned yet

picked up trash/leaves/limbs at the zoo
picked up trash at the local ren faire
volunteered to help put together swag bags for a marathon
loved on animals at a shelter - this one lead to some hilarious stories
held an all day event helping girl scouts get badges
worked at a local food bank repackaging food into family sized portions
posted by domino at 2:41 PM on October 12

As a teen I had community service hours requirements for a few different organizations I was in. Some of my favorites were:

- mapping invasive species in local watershed - a team of 3-4 volunteers would hike around for a few hours on a Saturday morning with a GPS device recording wherever we saw certain problematic shrubs and grasses
- public radio station volunteer - they had me listen to some albums and write down what tracks I thought ought to be played on their midnight rock show (to which I was a regular listener) and also sort records and CDs for their quarterly CD fundraiser sale
- academic library volunteer - they had a large volume of donated books in good condition and wanted me to do a bunch of data entry and price estimation to see what was worth selling

In all cases I did the legwork to find these places and reached out directly to see if they had any regular volunteer programs (bullet 1) or just projects on the back burner nobody had time to do (bullets 2 & 3), and they were thrilled to have me for the low, low price of signing my volunteer hours paperwork.
posted by potrzebie at 3:50 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

Adopt your block. Go out 2 or 3 times a week with a picker and a 5-gallon bucket and pick up every piece of trash in a one-block radius from your house (at a minimum! sometimes you'll have to go further to fill your bucket)

Have a plan in place for what to do if he finds sharps or poop or a bottle of pee..... this may not be an issue where you live, but it's good to have a plan anyway.

No reason to stop when he graduates, either. He may develop a sense of pride in his clean block and an inability to walk by a piece of trash.
posted by bink at 4:32 PM on October 13

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