Choices Approved


Teen Volunteer Ideas: 15 Ways to Give Back This Summer

Bethany Radcliff

We're challenging our teen readers to make this summer a season of giving back--and we need your help to make it happen! After going over our May article, The Summer of Change, in class, use the list below to give students ideas of how they can get involved in their communities. Encourage them to be open to new opportunities that may come their way, and remind them that there's no such thing as too little time to volunteer--even if they only have 15 minutes to spare, they can still make a difference!


1. Donate clothes.

Once teens have a stack of clothes they no longer want (but that are still in decent condition), they can either bring it to a Goodwill or Salvation Army drop-off center, or arrange for an item pickup from a charity like the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Time commitment: 30 minutes to sort through clothes + travel time to a drop-off center

Cost: $0


2. Throw a care package party.

Teens can help out the homeless by making care packages with friends. They'll start by individually collecting small hygiene items, like toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap bars, and socks. Then, the group gets together and assembles their packages in small boxes or plastic bags that will be donated to a nearby homeless shelter. (Hey teachers, this could also be a great end-of-the-year advocacy activity!)

Time commitment: Two to three hours

Cost: $20 for supplies, divided among participating teens


3. Volunteer at the local animal shelter.

For the animal-loving teen, this is the perfect way to give back. Most shelters are constantly looking for volunteers--and cuddling with cute critters hardly feels like work!

Time commitment: About an hour a week

Cost: $0

4. Write a letter to a member of Congress.

Is there a policy issue that one of your students is passionate about? Encourage them to write a letter or email to their representatives. The letter doesn't have to be their magnum opus--it can just be a simple statement of something they don't believe is being handled well, or something they want a lawmaker to know they support. Direct teens here to find out how to contact their representatives.

Time commitment: 15 to 30 minutes

Cost: $0

5. Teach technology to adults.

Older adults who aren't familiar with email or social media may feel lonely and isolated from their loved ones, so teaching them how to use this technology helps them connect with others. Teens can get started by contacting a local library or community center and volunteering to teach older adults how to use a smartphone or open a Facebook account.

Time commitment: Two to three hours

Cost: $0

6. Encourage literacy.

Teens can go to their local library and read to kids, or simply collect books to donate to the library. Organizations like Reach Out and Read can help would-be volunteers find a place to reach out to. (Note: There are sometimes age and background-check requirements to be a reader through the site.)

Time commitment: Varies

Cost: $0


7. Become a mentor.

Young kids look up to teens, so your students can make a big difference by befriending elementary-aged children, and offering guidance and support. One way to do this: Teens can start a weekly workshop to teach a skill they know to younger kids. 

Time commitment: A few hours a week

Cost: $0

8. Learn a new skill.

There are many free courses on sites like Instructables and YouTube that'll help teens develop a new talent. Then, they can put that skill to good use! One example: Teens who learn to knit or crochet can make hats or scarves for the homeless.

Time commitment: A few hours a week

Cost: Around $10 for craft supplies


9. Become a tutor.

Teens can volunteer to work at an elementary school and tutor summer school students in subjects they may be struggling with, like math or reading.  

Time commitment: A few hours a week

Cost: $0


10. Campaign for safe driving.

Teens can sign up for the Do Something campaign, Crash Text Dummy, to get tips on preventing friends from texting and driving. They'll even be entered to win a $5,000 scholarship! Be sure to also direct them to our story, Danger Behind the Wheel, where they can take the Power Passenger Pledge. 

Time commitment: A few minutes

Cost: $0


11. Share on social media.

Social media savvy teens can create a special account to promote a cause they feel passionately about. (Be sure to check out our Choices-approved social media campaigns for teens for help with this!) Another idea? Teens can also reach out to a local organization or non-profit and see if they need help managing their social media accounts.

Time commitment: 15 to 30 minutes

Cost: $0

12. Be a healthy-eating advocate.

Nutrition is an important part of a healthy lifestyle for growing teens, so have them download resources from The HAPPY Org to practice cooking healthy meals. After, they can teach family members and friends! For more healthy recipes, be sure to check out our story, What's for Dinner?

Time commitment: A few hours for shopping and cooking

Cost: Groceries 


13. Save the bees.

Bees are an important part of our environment, and they are mysteriously disappearing. Teens who want to help create a bee haven can try out the DoSomething campaign, Bumble Bands, by planting strips of paper with bee-friendly seeds glued to them.

Time commitment: One hour or less

Cost: $1-$2 for seeds


14. Conserve water.

When we think of summertime, we often think of cool, refreshing water--but summer heat often causes water shortages and droughts. Teens who want to help the environment can try Do Something's Shower Songs campaign to encourage five-minute showers to conserve water.

Time commitment: Ten minutes

Cost: $0


15. Host a school supply drive.

As fall approaches, some students can't afford the back-to-school supplies they desperately need. To help them, teens can set up a school supply drive or collect items from friends and neighbors, and then donate those items to their school or a local charity. 

Time commitment: A few hours

Cost: $0


Be sure to have students read The Summer of Change in this month's issue of Choices



Photo: Shutterstock

9 Fantastic Social Media Advocacy Campaigns for Teens

Bethany Radcliff

Social media may not always be a distraction for teens. It can serve as a wonderful way to get your entire classroom rallied behind a cause, just like Marley did in Where's My Story?. Using social media in the classroom teaches the importance of healthy digital citizenship and advocacy. Plus, social media campaigns are free and accessible to students, and can help teens understand advocacy by supporting ideas they believe in. Be sure to check out the ADVOCACY IN ACTION activity (on page T7 of our January Teaching Guide) and the accompanying #ADVOCACY handout for ways to get teens active in advocating for issues they believe in. 

Here are some great advocacy campaigns for students to support:


1. #PostItForward

Started by Tumblr, Post It Forward is a social media campaign that is all about getting rid of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses, like depression and anxiety. Students can get involved by making a Post It Forward gif or video. Remind teens to use the hashtag #postiforward so others can interact with their posts. For encouragement and inspiration, have students check out the Post It Forward Mental Health Quilt

2. #GimmeFive

#GimmeFive is a hashtag started by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let's Move campaign to get kids and teens active during the day. Teens can tag #GimmeFive whenever they get moving--from going on a walk or run to planting a garden in their backyard--and advocate for healthier living. (Psst: Our zombie-themed workout is a fun way to get teens pumped about exercise...and ready to survive the apocalypse!)

3. #BeThe1To

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline uses the hashtag #BeThe1To to encourage support of suicide prevention. Students can use the hashtag #BeThe1To as a way to share how they would help a friend in crisis. Some examples are: #BeThe1To ask, #BeThe1To keep them safe, and #BeThe1To be there. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's site also lists real-life stories of recovery that can inspire teens.

4. #WeWearWhatWeWant and #PerfectlyMe

#WeWearWhatWeWant is a hashtag all about body positivity and being comfortable in your own skin, no matter your size. This campaign will encourage teens to embrace their body just how it is. Backing a similar cause, #PerfectlyMe encourages body positivity in teensto boost confidence and bolster a positive body image. From teen amputees and eating disorder survivors, to teens embracing the word "chubby," this campaign offerers something for all students to rally behind.

5. #1000BlackGirlBooks

Marley Dias, who is this month's Choices Changemaker, started her campaign #1000BlackGirlBooks, when she noticed that most of the books she read in school were about white boys and their dogs. Marley realized that she didn't see girls like herself in many books, and set out to collect 1000 books featuring black girls to donate to school libraries. Since her campaign began, Marley has exceeded her goal and collected over 4,000 books.

6. #HeForShe

#HeForShe is a social media campaign created by UN Women to help men and boys advocate for women's rights. Participating with the hashtag #HeForShe will encourage teens to stand together and help them understand the importance gender equality. (For teaching tools on gender identity and equality, be sure to check out this recent Choices story.)

7. #TogetherPossible

Together Possible is a campaign started by the World Wildlife Fund that's all about working together in unity to protect the things that help us survive, like forests, wildlife, energy, and water. This campaign presents a great opportunity to teach teens about the values of conservation and why things like renewable energy and sustainability matter. Teens can use the hashtag #togetherpossible on Twitter to join the conversation. 

8. #OKforpetsnotpartners

If your dog destroys your furniture, you forgive him, but not if it's your partner. OneLove, an organization that fights dating abuse, created this campaign to help teens understand what dating abuse looks like--and why it isn't acceptable. Teens can go to the campaign site and create memes to share online using the hashtag #OKforpetsnotpartners. 

9.  #ItCanWait

Distracted driving is a problem for everyone, but it especially affects teens. The #ItCanWait campaign seeks to empower students to to put their phones away while driving--nd encourages teens (and adults!) to share the message that distracted driving needs to stop now. Use this campaign with our story Danger Behind the Wheel to facilitate a lifesaving discussion with students. 


Turning Inspiration Into Action:

It's easy for students to get involved in pre-existing campaigns, but what if a student wants to initiate his or her own advocacy campaign?  Here are some ways to empower students to start their own campaigns, online or IRL:

  • Discuss advocacy and help students learn what it means to stand up for others and support issues they believe in.
  • is a site that allows students to support their own advocacy campaign by starting an existing initiative at school, with friends, or on social media.
  • Even if students aren't ready to start their own campaign, encourage them to make a list of advocacy campaign ideas or things they would like to see happen. It can be as simple as going with a group of friends to donate unwanted items to a charity, or as complex as starting a competition to see which class can collect the most canned goods.
  • Some students may be interested in digital campaigns, like starting their own hashtag in support of an issue they feel strongly about. Have students brainstorm hashtag ideas to advocate for issues that matter to them. 
  • Some students may want to voice their opinions. Encourage teens to set up their own blog or social media account to make their voice heard.
  • Empower students with the resources they need to create their own clubs and groups at school. 


Help From the Choices Archive:

  • While it does not specifically focus on advocacy, The Real Social Media Stars will introduce students to teens who are sharing their passions and sharpening their talents through thoughtful, focused social media accounts.
  • In 15 & Famous, we profile three incredible teen bloggers who have used blogging or vlogging to share their thoughts with the world.
  • Get your students involved in this inspiring self-advocacy campaign--called #FirstTuesdaysStudentsSpeak--which was started by a group of teachers in California after the presidential election in November.