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Giving back is an important endeavor at any age, but for teens on the path to independence, it’s invaluable. Helping others allows teenagers to tap into their own unique value system in a way that’s meaningful to them, giving them a sense of purpose. And with so many teens feeling disconnected during the pandemic, volunteering offers an authentic way for them to connect with their community.

What’s more, volunteer work provides powerful mental health benefits as well as physical perks. According to research published by The Journal of the American Medical Association, helping others boosts heart health, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The bottom line: volunteering is beneficial all-around. If you want to help get your teens involved with giving back, but you’re not quite sure where to begin, read on for suggestions on local organizations where they can donate their time and skills.

BENEFITS OF VOLUNTEERING

Volunteering helps cultivate empathy, boosts resilience, and promotes gratitude, says Margaret DeLong Psy.D., a Long Valley licensed psychologist and author of Feeling Good: Thirty-Five Proven Ways to Happiness, Even During Tough Times. “It also fosters social interactions and helps to create meaningful relationships.” She recommend finding simple ways to give back that are personally meaningful. For example, if your teen loves playing soccer, they might enjoy volunteering to help out with a special needs children’s league.

When it comes to giving back, parents should serve as active role models for their kids. “An important ingredient for creating an appetite for volunteering is kids seeing it in their own families,” says Rosalind Dorlen, Psy.D., an independent practitioner of psychology in Summit and allied professional staff member of Overlook Hospital’s Department of Psychiatry. “Family provides the rich soil to allow volunteering to flourish. It’s really good for kids to help others. Not just so that they should be grateful for what they have, but so that they realize there’s intrinsic value in providing support to others.”

WAYS TO GIVE BACK

Offering time is a great way for teens to give back. “Children could visit a senior center or a veteran’s hospital,” DeLong says. “If a child notices some trash on the side of the road, they could do a community cleanup. As a family, they could volunteer at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter.”

Alternately, teens with a specific talent can donate their resources. For instance, “a high school student can tutor a younger student, who might be struggling,” she says.

Offering their care and attention is an option, either by physically visiting people who are homebound, or bringing them handmade goods. “They could send letters, bracelets or something fun to children who are at the hospital long-term, or a care package to someone in the community who might be struggling,” says DeLong.

Finally, teens can donate money or goods. They might cook a meal for someone who’s going through a difficult time, or call their local food pantry to see what items might be low, suggests DeLong. This way, they’re shopping with intention instead of just grabbing random items from the pantry to donate.

No matter how your teen chooses to give back, the key is that it’s meaningful to them. “When it’s meaningful and connected to their personal life, it’s more special, and it also makes them more likely to continue to do it,” DeLong says.

Local resources your teen can use to get started:

Community FoodBank of NJ
Volunteers work to assemble donations into food boxes to be distributed to those in need. Teens between ages 12-15 must have an adult with them as well as be fully vaccinated.

Jersey Cares
Connecting volunteers with local opportunities, Jersey Cares identifies ways for young adults to give back, from tutoring to painting school murals. Visit the site for a calendar of current opportunities and to register to give back.

NJ Humane Society
Teens who are passionate about animals can donate money, dog and cat food or other necessities.

New Jersey Students in Action
This is a “youth service, leadership and recognition program” that helps youth to increase their volunteer capacity both at school and in the community.

NJ VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster)
This group works to connect volunteers with those affected by disasters such as fires, storms and homelessness.

Red Cross, New Jersey
Offering opportunities to contribute financially, donate blood, or become a volunteer, the Red Cross is a great way for teens to help others in need.

United Way of Northern NJ
With volunteer opportunities, organized donations, local events and advocacy opportunities, teens can take part in a cause they believe in. They currently offer a program recognizing high school students who have made “an exceptional commitment to their community through volunteer work over the course of a year” called United Way Varsity Letter.

Volunteer Center South Jersey
This organization connects volunteers with local nonprofit organizations. The goal is to match helpers with a nonprofit in need of resources.