Changing the world for the better doesn’t always require a big, bold social movement. Sometimes, all it takes is a teenager with an open heart and a few spare hours to make a difference. Approximately 55 percent of today’s youth ages 12 to 19 volunteer regularly—close to double the rate of adults—and each year, they serve more than 1.3 billion hours. Whether teens are stocking shelves at a food bank, tutoring younger students after school, or volunteering with social justice organizations, their dedication on a small-scale level contributes to the greater good that impacts us all. During National Volunteer Month in April, educators and families encourage students to learn why they should find time to volunteer and where they can share your special skills. The benefits of volunteering Volunteers donate their time because they are genuinely altruistic—they selflessly care for the well-being of those around them and want to improve the communities they love. But that doesn’t mean you won’t experience a few advantages of your own when you make time to serve: Lower stress and greater happiness – Connecting with others—whether they’re your fellow humans or your furry friends—boosts your psychological health. In a , 93 percent of people reported an improvement in their mood after volunteering, and 79 percent reported lower stress levels. On–the-job experience – Volunteering empowers you with real-world skills that prepare you for your future career, including leadership, time management, decision-making, and communication skills. Depending on your professional goals, volunteering at an organization related to your future career field can give you a head start on your job path and help you build a network to rely on after your college graduation. Better grades – Studies have pinpointed a positive correlation between students who volunteer and those who earn good grades. As one researcher from New York University explained, “If you can find extracurricular activities that help you feel like you’re good at something and you feel like trying hard pays off, you might apply that back to your schoolwork.” An edge during college application time – Your high school resume is just as important to colleges as your GPA and test scores. Volunteering can be especially critical if you’re short on extracurriculars, and it demonstrates to admission counselors that you’re civic-oriented, dedicated, and passionate. In a recent survey of 264 admission officers, 53 percent said that community service can be a deciding factor when the choices are equally qualified students. In addition, many scholarships reward students based on their volunteer efforts. Youth-led DoSomething.org, for example, has community service campaigns you can jump on locally, and it offers scholarship leads and application tips as well. Ways to venture into volunteering The first step to finding the perfect fit is focusing on those causes close to your heart. If you’re an athlete, for instance, consider taking a mentorship role at a sports camp for at-risk youth. Love drawing and painting? Join a community organization that beautifies local neighborhoods through murals, or speak with a local museum about volunteering on family program days. Because volunteering can be a great way to jump-start your future career, look for opportunities that align with your professional and personal interests. If you love animals but also have a talent for graphic design, see if your local shelter needs help on its marketing and fundraising committee. However, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty either! If you can step away from the shelter’s computer and join others in cleaning the dog kennels, your actions demonstrate your commitment to teamwork and allow you to build a community with other like-minded teens. Finally, consider how often you can volunteer. Even if your extracurriculars prohibit you from volunteering weekly, seize on one-day opportunities, such as a local blood drive or a clean-up day at an area park. Additionally, because you’re already learning virtually as an ALVS student, consider bringing your volunteerism online. VolunteerMatch, for instance, has thousands of virtual opportunities you can do anywhere in the world, including making care bags and blankets for children in foster care and assisting people who have visual impairments with everyday tasks. Now more than ever, nonprofits are looking for smart, talented teens to help them fulfill their missions. By spending just a few hours a month serving others, you not only set a foundation for your own future, but you’ll also join your peers in making a collective impact that improves the lives of millions around the world.