Photo courtesy Erin Smith

By Erin Smith, Kihei Charter School

Growing up, we are constantly surrounded by and are able to witness community members get involved with a variety of different causes. Whether it is donating blood at a blood drive, organizing a beach cleanup, or becoming an advocate for an organization you believe in, it is hard for one growing up on an island such as Maui to not notice the good people do. Like many other kids and teens throughout the Maui community, I often recognize and think about some of these amazing contributions. After recently starting my junior project on organizing a jeans drive for Women Helping Women, I have begun to realize how much of a substantial impact a simple teen like me can make. I have already received over one hundred pairs of jeans, and there are community members coming to me left and right, eager to support the cause. From the amount of support and success I have seen this far, it has become clear to me that contributing to my community is extremely beneficial to not only the people around me but also to myself, especially as a teen. 

As teens, we simply don’t have to deal with all of the stresses of adulthood. Lindsey Zawila, writer at GenTwenty, makes these stressors clear by stating, “Adulthood responsibilities are endless. We’re counting our money with every purchase. Social drama includes deep betrayal and intimate relationships. There are no monsters under our bed, but we’ve found other monsters that are real. Our dreams of the future become immeasurable stress about what we’re going to do with our lives.” Because of these inevitabilities, it is important that we take advantage of the times in which life doesn’t seem so hectic. In other words, it is during this time that we should focus more of our attention on contributing to our community. The majority of us teens are lucky enough to have things like food costs and bills taken care of, which ultimately allows us more time to focus on giving back. By simply starting and taking a small portion of your time to volunteer somewhere, you will quickly learn just how helpful these acts can be.

Often times, after setting aside time to give back to your community, these acts become wonderful habits that instill important values in your head. Not only does it feel extremely rewarding watching your actions benefit others, but it can also provide you with unique experiences and lessons that will trail along with you for the rest of your life. Of course, the people who benefit most from these actions are the community members who are actually in need. Still, the only way these people can be positively affected is if teens continue to participate in these habits. Shobha Bhaskar, pediatric doctor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, went more in depth in an article about these useful skills that can be developed by stating, “Teens who engage in community service are more responsible with higher self-esteem and resilience. Volunteering helps teens gain new skills necessary for the job market such as leadership, communication skills, dependability, time management, and decision making.” The skills developed from contributing to your community as a teen will also help you thrive in your transition to adulthood. Ultimately, teens are resources of energy and creativity, and these actions allow them to grow into valuable members of society. 

After the benefits to the community and yourself are noticed by others, this makes more people become inspired and want to follow in your footsteps. For example, an adult that has never previously volunteered or helped out their community may feel the urge to reciprocate these actions if they see the younger generations doing so, and the same goes for your fellow teenagers. After seeing their friends do so, other teens will suddenly not be so afraid to step into this unknown territory. This is partly caused by something called positive peer pressure. Teresa Clark-Jones, senior extension educator at Michigan State University, perfectly describes this concept by simply stating, “Teens, through words and behavior can encourage each other to care about people, meet high standards and participate in positive activities.” This will also help them learn that no matter how old they are, they can make a large impact if they are driven and are able to define their purpose.  

Overall, teens can learn very useful skills and grow from experiences if they decide to contribute to their community. These skills that are developed are then recognized by others in the community, and this causes a ripple effect. Suddenly, more and more people want to follow along and continue to give back to those who need it. Although the ultimate goal is to help out others, the best way to do so is to make sure that more and more community members know of these positive effects and in turn, continue to contribute to their communities. 

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