How to Find Meaning in Volunteering

Contributed by Hal Chapel, CEO and Co-Founder of Lotsa Helping Hands

There is so much written in today’s media about the stress felt by teenagers preparing for college, it almost seems as if there’s no escaping the self-absorption that famously plagues adolescence.

Yet we are witnessing in our time perhaps the greatest numbers of youth volunteering in their communities. The cynics among us may claim this pull to community service is fueled solely by a desire to pad resumes for college applications. But others might argue that the significant increase in business school students focusing on nonprofit management and social entrepreneurship is a testament to the on-going interest in serving and giving back to our communities.

While I suspect there is truth in both positions, I also believe that it may be less important to focus on the motivation. Ultimately, it is our actions, and not our thoughts, that will not only define us individually, but will define our world and our communities. I am less concerned about why teenagers might be helping their neighbors, and more interested in the fact that the elderly Mrs. Jones down the street is getting help taking out her garbage every week.  If such community service also serves to enlighten and/or inspire those providing the help, all the better!

Most high schools now have a community service requirement for graduation. Some schools sponsor and monitor this activity better than others. My oldest daughter was required to find her own projects and activities and get formal approval. By the time my youngest daughter entered the same high school, the school had essentially created an Open Community at Lotsa Helping Hands and the faculty and parent coordinators posted the Activities in the Help Calendar where students could easily sign up to volunteer. She and her friends would help at local nursing homes, deliver meals to a homebound octogenarian, or help teach a struggling younger child to read.

There are scores of web sites that list resources and suggestions for ways to make a difference in your community. From volunteering at your local library to raking leaves or shoveling snow for an elderly person choosing to ‘age in place’, there are so many helpful ways to contribute to our communities.  If the testimonials at Lotsa Helping Hands are any indication, I suspect that many teenagers are both fulfilling their community service requirement as well as finding meaning in the time spent helping others.