“It looks good on a resume.”
“Colleges want to see it on your application.”
“I need the hours for school.”
These phrases are heard all too often from teens who consider volunteering. They envision the conventional soup kitchen or canned food drive as all volunteering can be. But this narrow view doesn’t do the true potential of volunteer work justice. What you get out of it all depends on finding an experience that fits your individual talents and skills, and there are plenty of opportunities to match any interest.
Volunteer opportunities with animals of all shapes and sizes are nearly limitless. Local SPCAs and other animal shelters are overwhelmed with pets that need loving homes. Even if you can’t take one home, there are plenty of ways to help. Participate in or even organize an adoption drive to help keep shelters manageable. And while pets are living in shelters, they need care and food as well. Round up food and supply donations, or just give some of your time to these furry creatures. The Western New York area also has some sanctuaries for animals that don’t quite fit in a shelter. Sanctuaries such as Lakeside Animal Sanctuary in Pendleton take in and rehabilitate unwanted farm animals. Some specialize in equine rescue, such as Begin Again Horse Rescue in Lima and H.O.R.S.E. Rescue in Spencerport. JNK’s Call of the Wild Sanctuary in Sinclairville houses many exotic animals that were once kept as pets, and the Buffalo Zoo is always looking for volunteers. While these facilities are usually located in rural areas and require a bit of a drive, they are worth the slight inconvenience and need your help.
Are you passionate about sports? If so, there are plenty of ways to get involved with adaptive sports for the mentally and physically disabled. Basketball, ice skating, track and field; the opportunities are endless. As the weather warms up, more Special Olympics events will be taking place in almost every sport. Tying a love of sports and animals together is easy; the Buffalo Therapeutic Riding Center and Equi-Star Therapeutic Riding Center feature horseback riding lessons for the disabled and always need volunteers. These sports are not only a great way to share your athletic talents, the rewards are well worth the effort. With grueling practices and inevitable losses, teens often forget why they started playing sports in the first place. But seeing these athletes and their sincere love of the sport will flood into your athletic experiences as well.
“It’s rewarding to experience something that’s so important and special to the both of us,” says Abigail Ring, an equestrian and volunteer at Equi-Star Therapeutic Riding Center.
The things these athletes achieve are truly remarkable, but none of it can be done without the help of volunteers.
If you’re breezing through school work, or simply know some tricks for understanding a subject, consider tutoring. Most schools offer programs where you can help teach peers after school hours, while others will enlist your help during the school day. If you’d like to help teach younger kids, you can inquire at lower grade schools that might be able to pair you up with a struggling student. Local community centers and schools often have after-school programs that could use volunteers to help students with homework. These kids would appreciate a helping hand, especially from someone closer to their age.
There are plenty of opportunities to get involved in the arts as well. Local historical theaters, including the Riviera in North Tonawanda and the Palace in Lockport, need ticket takers, concession workers and other duties filled for their many productions. These theaters are hard-pressed for money but have huge historical significance. Western New York’s many art museums make this an area rich in the visual arts, and, especially the smaller ones, rely on volunteers to stay open.
While volunteer time and manpower is hugely needed, many organizations require donations to do their work. Organizing a collection is a great way to see the quantitative good your hard work is doing. Projects don’t have to be generic; creativity and fun is the best way to attract support.
Sacred Heart Academy senior Lydia Phelps recently organized a charity ice cream social at her school.
“I was surprised to see how the community came together for the event,” Lydia said. She chose a cause personal to her, which made the event and its success even more special. “Pancreatic cancer research is in desperate need of research funds and awareness,” said Lydia, who was able to raise about $2,000 at the event and have a lot of fun as well.
It may seem difficult to find the right opportunity, but the truth is, with hundreds of organizations looking for help, there are ways for everyone to get involved. You can start searching at the guidance office in your school. Websites such as volunteermatch.org and area-specific sites like volunteerbuffalo.org and volunteerwny.org are sure to bring up plenty of opportunities in every sector, as will a simple Google search. Sure, getting involved in community activities does look good on a college application, but there are so many more reasons to get involved. Volunteering often puts your own privileges into perspective and leads to a new appreciation for the advantages you have. The fulfillment you’ll receive when seeing the good you do can’t be matched, so get out there and volunteer.
Kathryn Krawczyk is a senior at Lockport High School.