October 24, 2021

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What Volunteer Work Would You Most Like to Do?

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Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1, 2021.

Have you found a way to volunteer this past year, even in the midst of a global pandemic? If so, what did you do, and how did you find your job? Have you enjoyed it?

If you haven’t volunteered this past year, perhaps you’ve done this kind of work before. If so, what has been your favorite volunteer job? Why?

And if you’ve never volunteered, maybe reading about these five young people will inspire you. What skills and interests do you have that might be well-suited for a volunteer role, either now or when it is safer to volunteer in person?

In “These 5 Teenagers Managed to Volunteer This Year. Here’s How.,” Kaya Laterman writes about some young people in New York City who worked for a phone bank, painted murals, tutored and more:

Volunteering during a pandemic isn’t easy. Programs have closed or minimized operations, limiting opportunities to help, while many volunteers stay home rather than risk spreading the virus.

But a few resilient high school students — motivated in part by idealism and a need to fulfill graduation requirements or to perfect college applications — have not given up. From starting community fridges to checking in with older people on the phone, here’s how several of them have helped their fellow New Yorkers this school year.

Here are excerpts about three of the teenagers:

Amanda Cui, 17, Woodside, Queens

This year Amanda, a senior at Hunter College High School, had to go virtual with youth advocacy conferences, which she coordinated regularly for organizations like the Minkwon Center for Community Action and Chinatown Youth Initiatives. She also started discussions on organizing through TikTok and Instagram.

But she hit the streets, too. As part of a door-knocking campaign last summer in Flushing, Queens, that focused on tenants’ rights, Amanda collected testimony from residents to present at a community board meeting.

Amelia Jackson, 16, Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn

Amelia, a junior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, used to volunteer as a teacher’s assistant at Cassidy’s Place, a Manhattan preschool for vulnerable children.

But when schools closed last spring, she shifted her focus to a different demographic. Now, she is working with the Neighbor Network, which connects volunteers with older New Yorkers to check if they have enough food or need any urgent help.

Amelia speaks regularly on the phone with a septuagenarian who lives alone in upstate New York.

“She talks about her mental health and what she’s doing to distract herself, while I talk about the classes and high school life, or what’s left of it,” said Amelia, who also volunteers with Be My Eyes, an app that connects individuals who are blind with people who can see and are willing to help them with everyday tasks.

Lucky Ahmed, 15, Elmhurst, Queens

Lucky, a sophomore at the High School of Hospitality Management in Manhattan, admitted that he started volunteering because it’s a high school graduation requirement. But after spending some time with elementary students at a YMCA after-school program, he realized he enjoyed it.

“Now I like to volunteer when I can because it’s actually fun,” he said.

Last summer, Lucky also helped with a mural project through the South Asian Youth Action, a nonprofit, in an attempt to spruce up a pedestrian area in Jackson Heights, Queens. Mr. Ahmed said he focused all day on painting within the lines on his assigned portion of the piece.

Students, read the entire article, then tell us:

  • What is your own history with volunteer work? Have you volunteered in the past? Are you volunteering now? How did you find these roles, and which did you enjoy most?

  • Which of the volunteer jobs described in this piece are most appealing to you? Why? Did any of them give you ideas for work you might like to do?

  • Dream big: If you could invent a perfect volunteer role for yourself, what would it be? How might your unique set of skills, experiences and interests come into play? How might you figure out how to match those interests to an organization in your community? Or would you like to start your own organization, as Sehajpreet Singh did?

  • Or, instead of thinking about what you could offer, consider a community you care about and work backward from there. What special needs does this community have? How might you — or you along with friends or family — creatively address one of those needs?

  • Does your school require service work of some kind for graduation? What do you think of that requirement? Are you glad you’re being encouraged to volunteer? Or, do you resent it? Do you think all schools should require it, or do you agree with those who say that making volunteer work mandatory for students means it’s not really “volunteer” work at all and thus defeats the purpose?

  • If you’ve ever had a volunteer role you enjoyed, what advice would you offer other teenagers about finding a service job they will like? Why?

About Student Opinion

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Students 13 and older in the United States and the United Kingdom, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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