A helping hand: Plenty of ways for kids to volunteer in Southeast Missouri

Friday, November 13, 2015
Emerson Pitts, left, pours soy as Ella Clifton waits to add rice on the MannaPack line at the Feed My Starving Children MobilePack event Dec. 7, 2014, at the Osage Centre in Cape Girardeau. More than 3,100 volunteers were expected to fill 800,000 bags with food over the 3-day event hosted by LaCroix Church. (Fred Lynch)

For many people, volunteering is a way for individuals to give back to their communities, but some worry they might be too young to volunteer, or they might not know where to start.

Elizabeth Shelton, executive director at the United Way of Southeast Missouri, says plenty of organizations are in need of helping hands, and young people need only to look in the right places for opportunity.

"Our youth are so committed, some of them, and wanting ways to get involved," she says, citing student membership in an on-campus arm of United Way. "The United Way is a logical entry point into community involvement."

She says the organization is also getting a program started in Cape Girardeau County public high schools to help students cultivate a love of community service at a young age. Many of the United Way's funded partners offer opportunities to people 18 and younger.

Mike Bowers, youth director at the Salvation Army, for example, says his organization needs bellringers late in the year.

"We're definitely looking for volunteers for bellringing," he says. "And for that, you only have to be at least 16 years old."

The Salvation Army also offers opportunities for college students to tutor middle and high-schoolers.

"Unfortunately, [tutor volunteer numbers] are not really consistent, and toward the holidays, especially, it starts to drop off," Bowers says, explaining that they always have room for more volunteers. "We do it Monday through Thursday after school, and you don't need any specific expertise, we just really do need college students to volunteer."

Habitat for Humanity, another United Way funded partner, also uses volunteers year-round.

Preety Pradhan, who works at the Cape Girardeau Habitat for Humanity, says they see many high school students volunteer to work in Habitat's ReStore resale shop.

"We sell donated goods and products, everything but clothes and mattresses," she says. "We have high school students who come in and help us with the store if they need service hours for their varsities or things like that."

She says volunteers usually help move things around the store and reorganize things, but volunteers may also sign up for Habitat for Humanity's homebuilding ministry.

"Most of our volunteers are used to build houses," she says. "Although they must be 18 or older unless they have consent and supervision by a parent or guardian ... We try to keep our volunteers away from any heavy machinery or tools, though."

Pradhan says she enjoys seeing young people volunteering for her organization, as it builds character.

"It helps generate a feeling of community. I've seen that in high school kids," she says. "It's a good chance for younger kids to see something different and be more responsible."

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