ConAgra - Food Bank

Hunger has been a cornerstone of ConAgra Foods’ charitable giving, both financially and through volunteer work. Then-ConAgra employee Kasey Fuller, right, volunteered in 2011 at the Food Bank for the Heartland.

While volunteering isn't mandatory for all high school students, a lot of teens are required to complete community service as a part of their high school career.

My children — Abbey, 16, and Jaiden, 14 — are expected to complete 20 hours of community service every year. These volunteer hours can be earned in any number of ways but must be completed by the end of the school year.

Teens who volunteer receive many benefits from their experiences. One benefit in particular is the potential to lead into a long-term career path. Volunteering also teaches teens compassion, humility, responsibility and other essential life skills they can carry through life.

However, finding the right place to volunteer can sometimes be challenging — even overwhelming. Not everyone has the same personality or interests, so it may be necessary to discuss different options and ideas before making a final decision. Here are a few ideas to help you and your teen decide where he or she may want to volunteer.

For more information, contact your child's school or the organization where your child is interested in volunteering.

1. Soup kitchens or food banks. With the holidays and colder weather coming up, food banks and soup kitchen could definitely use more help as the need increases. Whether your child is serving food or stocking shelves, every little bit helps. Helping those in need is also a great way for your teen to learn humility and appreciation for all they have in their lives.

2. Animal shelters. Local animal shelters are a fun place for animal lovers to volunteer. Duties often include interacting with the animals, as well as taking them for their daily walks. And although there is an age restriction to volunteer, younger teens in Iowa can volunteer with a parent present.

3. The Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. The zoo is a great place for teens to start earning their volunteer hours. The Zoo Crew, an educational program geared toward teaching volunteers about conservation, research and general animal care, offers many hands-on learning opportunities. Unlike the animal shelter, there is a monetary fee associated, but it's an added benefit. It's returned to you the following year in the form of a free zoo pass. Your child simply has to complete the required number of volunteer hours to earn the pass.

4. Hospitals. If your teen has an interest in medicine or just caring for people in general, volunteering at a hospital may be a good place to start. Duties might include answering phones, delivering newspapers, visiting patients and helping nurses as needed. There are many benefits that come with volunteering at a hospital, including leadership opportunities and learning useful skills and responsibility. Many hospitals have age restrictions as well as a minimum time commitment. Most hospitals also require volunteers to complete volunteer orientation.

5. Retirement communities and nursing homes. Another great volunteer opportunity for teens who enjoy caring for others is to visit the elderly who live in retirement communities or nursing homes. Sadly, there are many aging or ill individuals with zero or limited nearby family members. Simply spending time with someone can brighten their day. Age restrictions may also apply for these volunteer opportunities, but it would be a great bonding experience for any parent and child.

6. Summer camps or swim lessons. If your teen is looking for summer volunteer opportunities, have him or her check out summer camps or even teaching swim lessons. Interested teens can learn invaluable life-saving techniques and leadership skills during their time volunteering. Be warned that there will likely be mandatory training to become a camp volunteer or to teach swim lessons. Teens might also have to go through an interview process.

7. Preschool or childcare centers. One place my daughter, Abbey, loves to volunteer is at her school’s preschool. There she spends time with the children, makes crafts and helps the teacher with a variety of tasks. This is a good option for any teen interested in teaching or early childcare.

How does your teen earn their volunteer hours?

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Amanda Smith, a working mom of two children, writes weekly for momaha.com. Read more from Amanda »

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