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Teens: the right volunteer role

Library offers info, opportunities for community service

April 27, 2007 | 05:09 AM
According to the 2005 government report Youth Helping America — Building Active Citizens: The Role of Social Institutions in Teen Volunteering, an estimated 15.5 million American teenagers, 55 percent of the young adult population, volunteered in the prior year through religious organizations, youth-leadership groups, schools or other organizations.

While young adults are often required to perform community service for school, clubs and religious organizations, many of them are not sure of how or where to get started. Fortunately, Long Island offers many opportunities for teens to volunteer — and the library is a great place to find out information about how to get the most out of your volunteer experience.

There are many benefits for youths who offer their services. Volunteering presents the opportunity to connect with your community, share your skills and learn new ones, develop self-esteem, meet new people, improve your résumé and feel good about yourself.

Community service is a big commitment and it is important that you try to find the opportunity that best matches your interests and skills. A few questions to ask yourself to help narrow down your choices are: What do you hope to gain from this experience? How much time are you able to devote? Would you like to work in a group or prefer to work one-on-one? How far are you willing to travel and do you have reliable transportation?

Once you have answered these questions, it is time to start contacting organizations. The Smithtown Library has set up a convenient list of local and national volunteer opportunities on the young adult page of our website, smithlib.org. Most major charities have websites that will provide you with information about their mission and what volunteer opportunities they have available for young people. Many have online guidelines and applications.

A common obstacle that younger teens encounter when trying to find a volunteer experience is that many organizations have a minimum age requirement. This problem can often be resolved by having an adult accompany you during your service; but it is important to check with the volunteer organization about any age restrictions.

The Smithtown Library has a busy summer planned. If you are in grades five through eight, you might want to consider participating in the Book Buddy program at the Smithtown branch. You will be assigned a "little buddy," whom you will read to for a half an hour a week for 6 weeks during the summer. Volunteers will get community service credit for participating. Stop by the main library during the month of May to sign up and get further details.

The Commack branch's Teen Advisory Group (TAG) offers another year-round young adult volunteer experience. This group helps plan movie nights, book discussions, game nights, book sales and more. Call Will Salas at 543-0998 for more information. The children's departments of our library also might be able to use your help during the busy summer months with their Summer Reading Club. Contact your branch to find out how you can lend a hand.

Teen volunteers can and do make a difference. However you elect to spend your service hours, your rewards in personal growth and satisfaction — and fun — can be immeasurable. Ideas on how to find the right volunteer opportunity for you can be as convenient as a trip to the library.

Jennifer Chivvis is young adult librarian at the Smithtown library. For more information on topics discussed in this column, email yasmith@suffolk.lib.ny.us.

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