On any given day I can receive multiple calls from students looking to volunteer at our agency in order to meet community service requirements. Like many students, Sarah was very eager to get started when she first called.

By all definitions, Sarah was a very well rounded young lady –a good student, an athlete, involved in theater at her school and motivated to make a difference. Yet somehow, she let the better part of her school year get away from her without making a plan as to how she would complete her 25- hour community service requirement. Despite this looming deadline, I invited Sarah in so we could talk about her volunteer goals and how we might work together to reach them.

Happy friends gardening for the communitySo, why do students wait until the last minute to make a volunteering plan? Sure, most kids these days are pulled in a thousand directions, and it’s easy to overlook items on the “to-do list”. Over the years, I’ve found that students (particularly those with a lot on their plates) need flexibility.

At Family Centers, we allow students the option to “bank” their hours with us. Basically, this means they can start volunteering with us at any point during the year and complete their service when they have spare time. In addition to accommodating the students’ schedules, this flexibility also allows our organization to have a roster of volunteers at the ready when a need arises.

In Sarah’s case, we were willing to come up with a combination of volunteer opportunities that helped her to reach the 25 hours she needed, but we also had a conversation about the upcoming school year and her plans for the summer. Sarah already had a plan in place to be a camp counselor for part of the summer, so we scheduled her community service before that commitment kicked in and she ultimately exceeded her requirement. When Sarah returned to school, she used the hours already completed for her anticipated community service requirements. Since we make a weekly schedule and tally hours as they are fulfilled, she had more than enough to satisfy what school would ask of her. It was a real win-win, as Sarah received the volunteer hours she needed while Family Centers was able to utilize her services across many different programs areas with a need.

And because we try to work with each individual student, we see a number of referrals from our student volunteers. Note to parents: When your child volunteers with a friend, the ongoing “shuffle” is lessened thanks to carpooling!

To fully utilize the service of young volunteers, consider the following tips:

  • Be flexible
  • Engage parents in the process
  • Incentivize where possible

The best thing about banking hours is that once students see the impact of their service, volunteerism becomes a part of their lifestyle. By allowing students the flexibility they need, our program cultivates a new generation of volunteers who feel rewarded by giving their time to others in need.

About the Author

Jennifer FlatowJennifer Flatow is Director of Community Engagement for Family Centers in Greenwich, CT.  Family Centers is a private, non-profit organization offering education and human services to children, adults and families living in lower Fairfield County. More than 3,000 professionals and trained volunteers work together to provide a wide range of responsive, innovative programs.