Volunteer Opportunities for Kids and Teens in the NYC Area

The holiday season is about to arrive, and with all of the cheer, lights, decorations, and sweets also comes the idea of giving back to others. While this idea should be one we all embrace year round, it is very easy for us to become so involved in the many things we need to do for our families each day that we forget. Instilling the concept of volunteerism in our children early on will make them more likely to continue giving back throughout their lives.

Often, families that volunteer together continue to do so for years, and it becomes a tradition that their children pass on to others. Finding the right kind of volunteer opportunity for your teenager can be difficult, as many organizations restrict the ages of their volunteers, and squeezing volunteer hours into a teenager’s busy schedule is easier said than done. The following is a list of organizations that accept teenage volunteers, and some ideas to get children of all ages involved in community service.

Queens Library

The Queens Library embraces volunteers of all ages. Teens who love to teach others can volunteer their time as literacy tutors and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) tutors. Other opportunities include assisting library staff with daily tasks, working in the gift shop, or acting as a gallery guide.  Most positions do not have a service hour commitment, so it’s a great way for high school students to fit earning service credits into their busy schedules. For more information contact: Volunteer Coordinator, Telephone: (718) 990-0815


The DOROT organization seeks to connect communities with the elderly by providing volunteer opportunities that span a wide range of services. Some positions require long term commitments, such as friendly home visitors and reading assistance for the visually impaired, and thus are suitable for mature high school students. However, during the holiday season more occasional and one-time opportunities are available. Individuals, families and groups can volunteer to bring holiday packages to the elderly, or participate the yearly Thanksgiving Day Celebration.  Most of these activities are in Manhattan so a quick train ride would be required. Information can be found at www.dorotusa.org

Queens Botanical Garden

The Queens Botanical Garden offers many volunteer opportunities for teens age 16 and older. Teens can assist visitor services, gardeners, supervise the children’s garden and activities, assist educators with children’s classes, and work with the compost team. Training is provided for all positions. For more information contact: Grisela Quiles at (718) 886-3800, ext. 203 or email: gquiles@queensbotanical.org.

Brooklyn Botanical Garden

The Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Garden Apprentice Program allows students to get their hands dirty while learning about urban agriculture. GAP participants must make a nine month commitment (March-November) and volunteer on a weekly basis. GAP participants eventually work their way up to a paid position as a senior apprentice. More information can be found at www.bbg.org/learn/gap/

Queens Green Teens

The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has ongoing opportunities for teenagers interested in helping to keep our parks clean. Volunteers assist in the removal of debris, collecting recyclables, and maintaining greenspace.
For more information contact: Rosemary Paul, Deputy Chief Queens Recreation rosemary.paul@parks.nyc.gov

New York Cares

New York Cares has a variety of volunteer positions, including just those for families. Current family-friendly opportunities include volunteering at animal shelters, participating with Room to Grow, an organization that serves infants in poverty, and assisting with Jewish Home Lifecare’s dances for the elderly. New York Cares also sponsors youth service clubs at local high schools. For more information see: www.NewYorkCares.org

Blissful Bedrooms

This Queens based charity always welcomes volunteers, and it’s a great option for teens because most of the work is done on the weekends. There are specific talents that are useful, like artists or those who can sew, but they can always use another set of hands. For more information, visit blissfulbedrooms.org/become-a-volunteer or email Martha@blissfulbedrooms.org.

Other Ideas:

Since finding the perfect volunteer opportunities for teenagers can be difficult, why not support your child in creating their own service project? Like New York Cares, other organizations sponsor service projects created by kids. Do Something, Generation On and Youth Service America are great resources for a teens interested in starting their own projects.

For younger children, seek out organizations that are looking for clothing, canned foods, or toys. Many schools host canned food drives for local food banks, coat collections for New York Cares, and Toys for Tots collections. Suggest that your child contact family members or neighbors for these items to donate. Churches and other organizations hold gift drives for children and women in shelters. Take your child shopping for these gifts so they can assist in picking them out. Feeling involved in any way will help a child feel like he or she contributed to something special.


Allison Casal-Dunn