The importance of service 

A study published last year by researchers at the University of Texas shows adolescents who volunteer in their communities are less likely to experience anxiety or behavioral issues and more likely to be very healthy. 

Those are just a few reasons you may want to talk to your child or teen about giving back in 2024. 

“Engaging in service has been linked to increased overall happiness and higher self-esteem, but I think having a greater perspective and empathy towards others are the most intrinsic benefits,” said Robbie Lowman, who oversees the First Tee College Scholarship Program and has worked in financial aid for more than a decade. 

It’s no secret that volunteer work can bolster a college admissions or scholarship application. 

“Service can demonstrate an applicant’s ability to take initiative, organize events and lead projects while showing signs of growth, resilience and adaptability,” Lowman said. But Lowman warned community service isn’t just a box to check on college applications. “It is a meaningful aspect of a student’s personal and academic journey. It reflects their values, character and commitment to making a positive difference in the world.” 

Encourage your child to find a project they’re passionate about 

There are many ways for kids and teens to get involved in their communities depending on their passions and interests. Nancy Rivera is a Scholar from First Tee – Silicon Valley and student at Middlebury College in Vermont. While in high school, she saw that Latinx members of her community needed support, so she started a Latinx club at her school, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, hosted food drives and even worked with a district councilmember to host college admissions classes for DREAM Act students and families. 

“When we received her First Tee College Scholarship Program application, her community service record showed us that she is willing to collaborate with others, make sacrifices to strengthen her community and is not afraid to follow her values into important projects,” Lowman said. 

Rivera wants to be the voice for Latinx families who have limited representation. With her community service accomplishments, that goal doesn’t sound far out of reach. 

Giving back to the community has so many benefits that Lowman and his team prioritize it during annual professional development events for First Tee Scholars. For example, the group has hosted a beach cleanup and packed school supplies for students at a Title I school. The projects promote teamwork and collaboration, Lowman explained. 

Helping your child identify their personal values 

There are many ways to serve others, but community service typically has the greatest impact when it connects back to your personal values. As you discuss volunteering with your child, consider starting with these questions: 

  • What in life is important to you? 
  • How do you know that something is important to you? 
  • What does it show about your values when you say one thing but do another? 

If your child values academic success, they could volunteer as a tutor. Or if health and wellness is important to them, perhaps they could coach younger kids in sports. Once you’ve helped your child determine their personal values, that’s a good starting point for getting involved. 

If your teen is a First Tee participant, we encourage you to learn more about Innovators Forum a national opportunity focused on giving back. During the annual event, which will take place in Phoenix this November, a team of expert facilitators helps each participant develop a community service project to implement at home.