“When I was in elementary school, I looked up to the middle schoolers who would help out teachers and the office staff on Thursdays in awe. I wanted to be them, be the mature, helpful student who everyone seemed so grateful for. So it was no surprise that once I entered middle school, I immediately began helping them with various tasks, from organizing supplies to tutoring struggling math students. On the last day I helped out there, I was given a card. Scrawled in shaky handwriting were notes from the kids I had tutored, expressing their thanks for helping them understand math a little better. It was an epiphany. I had become the middle schooler that once was my first role model.
Ever since first grade, I loved playing soccer. I played AYSO soccer throughout most of my childhood. On games during the weekend, where little kids chased dreams of scoring a goal and being the hero of the game, the “yellow-uniformed people” as I saw them were always there to make sure the game was safe and fun for everyone. I remember asking my coach, “Why do they always come out to referee our games when they don’t even know us? Do they get paid?” My coach responded, “No, they don’t get paid. They’re just good people who want to help.” After that, the way I saw the referees changed. While everyone cheered for the new hero who scored the winning goal, I saw who the real heroes were: the referees, dedicating their time and energy for the happiness of kids. As soon as the organization would allow me, I became a AYSO Youth referee. Now I play club soccer, but I still continue to referee for AYSO soccer, giving back to the community that helped me find my first passion.
I love to try new things. I remember in seventh grade I would pass by a park or a school and notice kids wearing identical shirts, helping out with a sports event or service event. I asked my mom where I could possibly find a place that would direct me to help out all people that needed help. That’s how I found Lion’s Heart. Now I’ve volunteered at the Rose Bowl Parade, the Second Harvest Food Bank, marathons, plant nurseries, educational events, you name it. These were opportunities as a little kid I would never imagine myself doing. I dreamed of being able to have the power to help others, however small or large the impact. Now I’ve achieved that dream that little me had.
I’m a junior in high school now, and I’ve realized that all these seemingly small experiences have formed the very basis of the person I am today. These supposedly insignificant things have become important to my identity; without them, I would not be the person I am today. This is why volunteering is so important: there is so much to the human self and potential you can unlock.
As teenagers, we are going through a crucial stage of development toward adulthood. And thus, the experiences and lessons we get from volunteering are crucial for our growth as a knowledgeable and empathetic human being.
First of all, you gain perspective. It’s easy to get caught up with your own life. With volunteering, you learn to be grateful. You see the world the way others see it for a fraction of your time, which is a humbling ‒ and almost life-changing ‒ phenomenon. You build a duty and desire to help those around you rise above their current situation. Often, I have been moved by how much people truly treasure your help. Something as small as spending thirty minutes talking to the elderly at the senior care center or writing a card in five minutes for a child struggling with cancer can change a life. A little act of kindness really can go a long way. With volunteering, you see the best of it.
Through volunteering, you will also gain valuable skills that will help you in the future. Before I started volunteering, I was a timid girl when it came to talking to adults. I would avoid talking to adults as much as possible, and when I did, it was usually a few words haphazardly thrown into sentences. After volunteering, I gradually became more confident and mature; it enhanced my social abilities and allowed me a glimpse of how it was like to communicate in the real world. Without volunteering, my development as a independent and responsible person would have been greatly stunted; it is to volunteering that I have to thank for the person I am today. In fact, research has shown that teens who engage in community service are more reliable and resilient, contributing to an overall higher self-esteem. Teenagers also are able to develop skills that are necessary to the job market, such as leadership, decision-making, time-management, accountability, social networking, and communication skills.
Volunteering allows you to widen your horizons and experience things you would have never experienced before. By opening yourself up to a variety of experiences, you learn more about the world around you ‒ and even more about yourself. Through volunteering, you might discover you have a passion for environmental protection or animal shelter work or some other area of interest that you would not have realized otherwise. I’ve had a lot of fun volunteering: I’ve made many friends, fell down a drain, painted a float twenty feet above the ground, ridden in a golf cart, cooked dinner for families I’ve never met before, and more. There’s been a lot of adventures ‒ and misadventures ‒ in volunteering. It all has been worth it.
Finally, you are able to make a change. Many people go through their lives believing that there is nothing they can personally do in their own lives to help others. Here’s the thing: not all heroes wear capes. Know that every time you go out there and offer your time and energy to help those who really need your help, you are appreciated.
No matter how small an act of kindness may seem, it means to world to someone else.
With volunteering, you give yourself the opportunity to truly enrich yourself and develop as a person, while helping others in need. I’ve only scratched the surface of why volunteering should be an integral part of a teen’s life; there is a certain power in volunteering that cannot be expressed, only experienced. But one thing is for certain: these experiences will become one of the most important influencers in your life and future.”
Audrey is an active Lion’s Heart teen volunteer in Southern California.
To form a chapter in your neighborhood, become a Member, request volunteers for your cause, or become a corporate partner, visit lionsheartservice.org.