Volunteering is an essential way to give back within a community—locally or globally—offering innumerable ways to help others by providing basic needs like sustenance, clothing and transportation, or the more nuanced gifts of time, kindness and hope.
Among the myriad reasons to volunteer are personal benefits gained by the volunteer. For many students who are (or will soon be) beginning the college application process, volunteering is often recommended to bolster their applications. That’s not just to populate the “activities” section of the application or help with an essay topic. Volunteering is a valuable way to build skills that will help after high school—whether at college, a job or even later on in any career.
Many high schools offer access to volunteering opportunities, or even require service hours for graduation. At Hampshire Regional High School (HRHS), in Westhampton, Massachusetts, where Clarke offers a Model Inclusion Program for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, students must volunteer their time in order to graduate.
“Our mission statement at HRHS talks about developing ‘the knowledge and skills needed to be lifelong learners and responsible participants in society,’ and our community service graduation requirement aligns with this mission,” says Beth Rochon, MEd, EdS, school counselor at Hampshire Regional High School. “Specifically, community service work helps our students think beyond themselves and contribute in meaningful ways to the community at large. Part of our roles as educators is not just to equip them with the academic knowledge they’ll need to compete in the 21st century but also to prepare them to be caring and thoughtful adults who are interconnected with the larger community. Our community service requirement gets them started early and hopefully leads to a civic mindset that will continue throughout their lives.”
Benefits of Volunteering
Access to Out-of-Reach Fields
Volunteering can help students gain work experience that might not be readily available to them through paid work due to their lack of expertise. For example, if you eventually want to work with children, getting a job at a school or library as a student yourself will be difficult. But volunteering at the children’s library or assisting a coach on a sports team can give you valuable experience in your intended field. If you know — or think you know — what kind of work you want to do after college, look for volunteer opportunities related to it.
For many busy students, between school and sports or other extracurricular activities, options are limited for finding paid work that aligns with a young person’s experience level and schedule. In these scenarios, volunteering can help fill that gap. For starters, most volunteering options will be more willing to work around an unusual schedule, for example, if you can only manage some time every other Saturday, instead of every week.
Test Driving Careers
Volunteering options can be helpful in other ways — you may learn that the field you had in mind isn’t a good fit for you after all. Maybe the day-to-day work isn’t what you thought it would be or it’s not a good match for your skills and goals. Finding that out now, instead of after you’re halfway through a college degree program, can save you a lot of time and energy.
Lessons in Professionalism
Volunteering can also help you develop vital professional skills. Work ethic, leadership, intercultural fluency, strategic planning and managing others are just some of the skills volunteers use — and that you’ll be called on to use in school and your eventual career. Depending on the type of volunteer work you do, you may be exposed to people, areas or situations that are very different from your own life. That broader perspective will help you for the rest of your life. Plus, you’re guaranteed to meet new people and expand your professional and/or social networks in the process.
Accommodations for Students Who Are Deaf of Hard of Hearing
For students who have a hearing loss, there may be some special considerations to account for when evaluating volunteering opportunities.
If a volunteer activity or location involves something that may affect how well your hearing technology works (for example, water activities, loud gyms, remote locations), take that into account. You may decide to choose a different activity or to take extra steps to ensure your hearing technology continues to give you the best possible access to sound. For example, if you want to volunteer on a project in a remote area where there’s no power, plan on bringing extra power packs or batteries.
Just like with school, you may need to ask for certain accommodations to make sure you have high quality access to sound while you’re volunteering. The possibilities are as varied as the types of volunteering available. You may need to ask your project leader to wear a microphone, to have safety or other training instructions provided in writing, or to have captions available on any videos. If there’s something you think would make it easier for you to do the work of a volunteer, be sure to ask for it.
It’s worth noting that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, organizations aren’t required to provide accommodations to volunteers. However, most organizations will be willing to work with you to provide those accommodations if they can. (They’re there to help people, and you’re there to help them!) Plus, most accommodations for people with hearing loss aren’t difficult to put in place and are often helpful for people with typical hearing, too.
One other consideration: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing have a unique perspective and experience — that’s a plus in many ways. When considering which volunteer opportunities you want to pursue, give some thought to whether working with organizations that help children or adults with hearing loss or other disabilities is something you’d like to do. Especially for children with hearing loss, they often don’t know many other children like them. Having an older teen as an example can be priceless.
Are you a student interested in volunteering at an upcoming Clarke event? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about new opportunities.
Meet Student Volunteer and Clarke Alum Tara
Clarke Alum Tara has volunteered for years at a local festival helping children create art, as well as at Clarke events. She shared her experience and insights about volunteering with Mainstream News.
Why Tara Volunteers
I decided to start volunteering because it was a way to give back to those who had helped me. It was also a great booster for my mood—simply helping others and talking to other volunteers is a great method to curing any loneliness. This rings even truer during this pandemic, where it is so hard to casually talk to other people now.
Doing a lot of physical work improves mental health as well. As a teen, I would be a typical moody person who felt isolated at school. Volunteering helped me to branch out in a place that wasn’t school or home. I worked [in an art-making space] for years and still remain connected to the people who run that program.
Challenges & Accommodations
[While volunteering,] I would often not be able to hear others and certain instructions. I still struggle with this, but I have learned to ask multiple times if I do not hear something. It shows that you care about what they have to say. Volunteering also helps in figuring out what your limits are. How much work can you do before you get tired from having to listen all the time? What environments are better for you to function in? Which people will be accommodating? I’ve had ups and downs when interacting with others and taking time for myself after work always helps. I also worked with organizations that had people who are disabled, making it easier for me to function.
I’ve had to ask for music and background noise to be lowered. These requests were received well due to the nature of the organization I worked with. If you request accommodations and they are turned down, that is a sign of a poorly run organization that you may not want to work with. It could also be an area that is not the right fit for you. But, in my experience, volunteer work usually draws people that are kind and easy to talk to. I would be surprised to find a program that would treat a person poorly for wanting to help.
Advice for Other Student Volunteers
Work at a place that contains some aspect of your interest! If you are disabled, try to find a place with people who have a disability on the team. Physical work is the best. If it feels like a drag at first, keep pushing through—you will look fondly back on it in the future. And it is the place where you meet the best people AND connections! You may find a great job opportunity along with some new friends. I will especially recommend doing this if you are a teenager. Volunteering will show you that life exists beyond high school.