This article was written by Sarah Hinstorff, former chair of the Youth Advisory Board.
Contribute to Manage Stress
Contribution has many benefits. It can make a positive impact on others’ lives and the larger community. It can also help you manage stress. Contribution can take many forms. Examples include formally volunteering at a soup kitchen, tutoring neighbors, or offering to grocery shop when your parent had a stressful week. Even small acts of generosity and kindness can make a difference.
Serving others or working to repair the community (or world!) offers people perspective on their personal challenges. Sometimes it helps make problems feel smaller. Other times, it offers an opportunity to learn new skills. Sometimes that time away is what’s needed to find solutions to personal worries.
Achieve a Sense of Purpose
Being positively engaged with other people reinforces the ability to make a difference. As teens, it can sometimes feel like adults underestimate us. Seeing the impact we make when we contribute gives us purpose, power and proves our potential. When we have a sense of purpose, it’s easier to push through obstacles or ignore self-doubt.
Contributing to the community looks different for everyone. Perhaps you prefer to work with animals, or to protect the environment. There is no “right way” to serve. It’s knowing that you are making a positive effort that offers protection.
Give yourself the chance to experience the personal rewards of service. Perhaps you’ll receive gratitude, reminding you how much you matter. This can be especially meaningful when you aren’t feeling so good about yourself.
Reach Out and Build Resilience
It may not seem obvious, but turning to another person to ask for help is an act of resilience. In times of greatest challenge, reaching out can quite literally make the difference to survival. What makes somebody feel comfortable reaching out? Part of that answer rests in not believing they are pitied.
When you serve, you learn firsthand how good it feels to give. You also learn that those who help others gain something from it. They don’t serve out of obligation. This means that if there’s ever a time you need help yourself, you’ll be more comfortable taking it. There’s no shame because the person supporting you feels good about it, they’re not acting out of pity. Just as you’ve given, sometimes it’s your turn to receive.
Find Ways to Give Back
There are opportunities in every community to contribute. Not all are connected to a formal program. Look no further than your neighborhood to find a person in need. Service can entail a thoughtful letter to a neighbor who has lost a loved one. It can mean helping an elderly woman carry groceries to her car. Or, it can be a more permanent commitment to weekly volunteering at a local food bank.
School may be a great place to start looking for service opportunities. Did you know that teens who tutor younger children raise their own grades? Young people who work on improving the school environment also do better in school. Opportunities can also be found through local religious institutions, animal shelters, food pantries, community improvement projects, or environmental protection organizations. If you want to investigate service options near you, check out these websites and start doing some good: