After 18 months of remote learning, schools are excited to get their students back in the building and re-involved in their local communities. Essential workers around the country have been sacrificing their health and well-being so that our students and teachers can get back to in-person learning, and it’s time that we give back to our communities as a way to say Thank You.
Here are 10 ways that your high school students can work with their school community to help their community at large. These 10 ideas will inspire you to take advantage of the myriad of volunteer opportunities in your community.
1. Support your city’s unhoused population by serving lunch in a soup kitchen!
Many community centers and places of worship (like synagogues and churches) participate in feeding the houseless several times per week. Partner with a local program in your school’s neighborhood in order to ensure accessibility for students. Many soup kitchens don’t even serve soup anymore- more often than not volunteers are asked to make assembly-line sandwiches and pack” to-go” lunch bags. This can be done as an extracurricular activity or a field trip for a civics or culinary class.
2. Hold a talent show to raise money for a local Domestic Violence or Homeless Shelter
There are over 1.4 million school children nationwide who live in temporary housing (better known as homeless shelters), and most of the time, students don’t know that their classmates don’t have a room to call their own. There are many ways to raise money for community organizations.
One of the most fun and successful ways is to have a talent show. Solicit acts from students with an inclination towards the arts, and make sure to hold auditions. Advertise the show to both the school community and community at large, and publicize that it is a fundraiser for a local homeless or domestic violence shelter. Make sure you let the shelter know that you are fundraising for them, and invite the residents of the shelter to come and see your show!
3. Make a Senior Citizen smile by volunteering your talents at a Nursing Home!
Take the talent show on the road and perform for a group of senior citizens at a local nursing home. After the show, spend some time with the residents listening to their stories or playing a board game of their choice. This is character building at its finest and leaves a lasting impression on both the student and senior citizen alike. Oftentimes there are many permanent volunteer opportunities available at a senior home, so encourage your students to buff up their college applications by volunteering consistently.
4. Raise Awareness for people with disabilities and the Special Olympics
The Winter Olympics will begin in February 2022, and what better way to celebrate our world’s greatest athletes than becoming part of the Inclusion Revolution. You can find a special Olympics team or athlete in your area (Special Olympics site) to find your local chapter), and volunteer for a range of activities.
For especially sports-inclined students, you can volunteer to train with Special Olympic athletes. This would also be a great opportunity for an entire gym class to host a special Olympics team, train with them, and cheer them on when competition season arrives.
5. Read to young children in your Local Library
Partner with a local library and ask if they have a story hour for young children. Volunteer to participate in a story hour once per week. This can also be done for children in pediatric hospitals who are there for long-term treatment. This idea would be especially great for a drama class, as they would be able to practice performing for an enthusiastic audience who is always craving entertainment.
6. Walk the dogs currently awaiting adoption in your local Animal Shelter
Depending on where you live, there is probably an animal shelter full of amazing dogs waiting to be adopted. Most of these dogs only get a short respite from their cages every day, and might not even get a real walk!
For the animal-loving students, walking shelter dogs is a great community service project that helps both student and animal learn independence and responsibility. Most shelters are ecstatic to have teen volunteers. Becoming a volunteer can be a lengthy process of background checks and interviews - but it’s definitely worth the bond you’ll carry fur-ever.
7. Celebrate Earth Day by having a Park Clean-up!
Partner with your local parks department to plan and hold a park clean-up. You can also create partnerships with local mutual aid groups or find organizations that are already beautifying your streets and parks! These groups are always happy to have more like-minded partners and will often donate their trash bags, gloves, and pickers to help your students clean up garbage safely.
For a bonus- make it a party! Invite musical groups to perform, families to barbeque, and students to organize pick-up basketball or soccer for after the clean-up. This fun and rewarding outdoor activity is also COVID safe!
8. Partner with Habitat for Humanity and beautify a public space!
Students who are interested in architecture and design, art students, and especially active students would thrive in a volunteer position with Habitat for Humanity. This international organization has chapters in every major city and works to revitalize neighborhoods and communities. Students can take part in construction projects and learn how to create safe and sustainable spaces, and build lasting connections along the way. Plus, consistently volunteering with a nationally ranked organization can lend a boost to any college admissions process.
9. Start a food pantry at your school!
Encourage students to develop their leadership skills by starting a food pantry at their school. The pantry can be for students and families or for the community at large. Hold a “pantry drive” where students bring in cans and non-perishable items that can be kept in the food pantry.
When hosting a food pantry, please find a discreet location where everyone can have access to the food without discomfort.
10. Hold a clothing drive for students in temporary housing!
Holding a clothing drive is something the entire school can participate in. Send flyers home with students.
Instead of having a regular “clothing drive” which can be stigmatizing to students and families, create an inclusive and interactive “Pop-Up Shop” that is open on several weekend days. This way, whole families can come “shop” at the school. Find an available classroom to hold the “shop” and make it look like a clothing store. Hang clothes on garment racks, create fitting room areas, and add some store decor to reflect the care and regard you have for families coming in to shop.