Community Service hours are required by most high schools for graduation, and summertime is an opportune time for students to contribute to their community by volunteering. Only two states require community service hours for students by law, the District of Columbia and Maryland. However, Florida strongly encourages community service by allowing districts to offer credit toward graduation for community service, and the state explicitly permits districts to adopt a service requirement for high school graduation.

Volunteering with their peers will typically make their first ventures into volunteering more enjoyable and less intimidating. In many instances it may be possible for your student to earn their hours through organized groups such as church/synagogue, scouts or school clubs. Then, they are not expected, nor do they have, to search out and participate completely on their own.

Parental guidance and encouragement are also important for helping your student prioritize their summer free-time toward this end. Share with them your own experiences and that of others you admire. Let them know volunteering is an important step in building skills and  experience for future career opportunities and positive development toward becoming an adult and contributing member of society.

Here are a few ways to volunteer in South Florida, based on your personal interests:

Talking to students before, during, and after their volunteering is key to your teen having a positive experience. Beforehand, discuss with them which civic areas are of interest to them. Check that the location is safe and convenient for their mode of transportation. Could the hours be flexible to accommodate family summer plans? Finally, do they have realistic expectations about what the grunt work may entail? During their volunteering, ask questions in order to give them a chance to share their experiences. And after, discuss why or why not they would want to continue volunteering and ask what they learned from their experiences. Did they see results from their efforts?

Most research has found that mandatory service is linked with heightened intent to engage in future volunteering. According to Dr. Benjamin Oosterhoff, “This means that the types of experiences youth have within their community service activities may matter more than whether participation is mandatory.”

When I was in high school community service was not required, although several of my girlfriends worked as candy stripers at our local hospital and I completed volunteer work through Dillard’s Teen Board. Two of my friends, who were candy stripers, did eventually go into nursing, and the third became an accountant. While my teen volunteering opportunities were limited, I also learned the value in helping others by observing  the adults in my life. I witnessed our church helping the elderly with home repairs, and I often saw my Dad loaning money to the homeless who hung around his downtown art studio. Today, I find joy in volunteering at Boca Helping Hands by providing food to those in need. There is something soul-satisfying in knowing you’re making someone else’s life a little bit easier. As Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

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