Help wanted! How youth volunteerism does a community good

There are volunteer opportunities for teens at The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk.

A new year, full of potential, is an excellent time to embark on a new journey. The decision to incorporate some type of volunteerism could be one of the most beneficial choices you and your child make not only for their future but for those that will reap the benefits of their “giving back” for years to come.

A volunteer at Person-to-Person, with locations in Darien and Norwalk, mans the phones in the reception area.

The benefits of having your pre-teen and teenaged children volunteer can positively impact their lives. According to Darsi Baer, M.A., C.A.S, licensed educational psychologist for Trumbull Public Schools, “Research does support the health benefits of giving of one’s self and time. We are continually seeing students, not only those with identified areas of need, but even typically developing adolescents struggling with difficult emotions, academic stress, and  an increasingly challenging social landscape. We’re working to bring together all students of varying skills and talents so that even those struggling can give back to another;  the benefits are immediate and, potentially, long-term. The emotional gains are truly amazing to witness. When individuals volunteer, they not only help their community but also experience better health in later years, whether in terms of greater longevity, higher functional ability, or lower rates of depression.”

There are many volunteer opportunities throughout Fairfield County for you and your child to explore. Many non-profits could not function without the support, time and enthusiasm of their volunteers … especially their young adult volunteers.

Dave Sigworth, publicist for Norwalk-based The Maritime Aquarium, concurs: “Our organization could not operate without our dedicated group of volunteers. After guests complete their ticket transaction, most people they connect with throughout the remainder of their Maritime Aquarium visit are volunteers. As a not-for-profit organization, we could not afford to have paid staff take on that role, so our volunteers are critical!”

Playtime at the Darien YMCA: A teen volunteer spends time with a little girl at the Y.

Amy Kiser, director of marketing and communications for the Darien YMCA, adds, “Serving as a youth volunteer helps a child grow socially and learn responsibility which supports our mission of youth development. Children with special needs and the youth volunteer with whom they are partnered develop strong friendships.“

Volunteering can also teach a teen the value of “unplugging” and proper social/networking skills that they will need as an adult. And when it comes time to apply for college or a job, volunteering experience can make teens shine. Susan Zelman, site manager for Darien and Norwalk-based Person-to-Person, says, “I believe volunteering, in general, and more specifically at Person-to-Person, provides our youth with substantial benefits. Although there is adult supervision at all times, youth volunteers are encouraged and empowered to carry out functions and responsibilities independently, to make their own decisions and to become leaders. Our youth volunteers interact with a diverse community, learning valuable leadership, communication, and teamwork skills.”  

A teen mentors a child through the volunteer program at Southport-based Wakeman Boys & Girls Club.

Ellen Tracy, executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Connecticut, states, “I like to think that volunteering in the early years establishes it as a normal part of life, not an extraordinary effort.” To begin exploring opportunities, start by looking into your local house of worship, hospitals and libraries for openings.

Additional resources: Greater Fairfield’s go-to site for volunteering. Whether your teen needs to fulfill service hours or simply wants to give back, this site offers everything he or she  needs, from volunteer openings to summer internships. Website for volunteers to connect with non-profits and corporations within Connecticut. The site currently offers over 870 volunteer listings in areas such as advocacy and human rights, animal care, arts and culture.

New Canaan Nature Center: Volunteer positions year round in the areas of marketing and communications, visitor center hosts, special events, animal care, and greenhouse/garden care, as well as administrative duties.

Ridgefield Operation for Animal Rescue (ROAR): Volunteer opportunities for those 18 years and older. Volunteers are needed for dog walking, cat socialization, office help, dog transport, fundraiser and special event staffing.

Trackside Teen Center of Wilton: Volunteers can mentor middle school students or supervise younger teens at school events.

Darien YMCA: Serves over 600 participants in their sports, enrichment programs, camps and social clubs. Volunteers as young as 6th grade may participate in some programs including Sibs Gym (a weekend program in the gymnastics center), Young Athletes (a health/fitness program) and Unified Art. Just Us Girls and Friday Nights are designed for teens with special needs requiring high school-age volunteers. Their basketball program also needs high school volunteers.

Having fun at a Big Brothers Big Sisters of SW CT event.

Big Brothers Big Sisters of SW CT: While you have to be an adult to be a “big brother or sister,” there are several volunteer opportunities year-round including hosting a clothing drive, participating in holiday toy drives and Bowl for Kids’ Sake (March 25th).

The Maritime Aquarium: You must be at least 15 years old to be a volunteer. The aquarium offers a four-week training course three times each year with an abbreviated course offered in the summer. Most volunteers serve as gallery ambassadors, helping visitors learn more about the represented animals of Long Island Sound. Office and special event volunteers are also needed.

Wakeman Boys & Girls Club: Wakeman offers volunteer opportunities for 7th-12th graders at four service sites: Southport Clubhouse, the Smilow-Burroughs Clubhouse (Bridgeport), the Outreach Extension at McKinley Elementary School (Fairfield) and the Wakeman Lighthouse Program at Claytor Magnet Academy (Bridgeport). Opportunities include leadership programs, mentoring, homework tutoring, coaching and summer camp.

Person-to-Person:  Person-to-Person is a community-supported agency that provides emergency assistance for basic needs and support for individuals and families as they move towards stability. Person-to-Person accepts youth volunteers grades 9-12. Volunteers can work in the Darien Clothing Center, the Darien or Norwalk Food Pantry (assisting clients, sorting/stocking donations, answering phones), and with major events, such as large food drives, holiday toy giving (Toy Store) and with Thanksgiving food distribution. Their youth program in Darien, Kid2Kid, allows middle schoolers to volunteer.

TOPSoccer: Official program for Young Athletes with Disabilities: This buddy program, based in Trumbull, accepts students from 7th-12th grade and begins April 21st. Call Kelly Miyaki, 203-339-5164, for more info.




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