15+ ways for your teen to earn volunteer hours

By Tamar Satov

In a growing number of school boards and provinces around the country, secondary students must put in several workdays’ worth of volunteer hours to graduate—leaving them (and their parents) scrambling to figure out how they can best contribute. While food banks, hospitals, community centres, faith-based organizations and the United Way offer popular and fulfilling pursuits, there are countless other opportunities for youth to earn those hours through activities that match their interests.

Even if your teen’s school doesn’t insist on community service, check out the following ways they can beef up their high school resumes, discover potential careers, find new mentors, build friendships and have fun—all while giving back and making a difference.

Animal shelters rely on volunteers to keep our four-footed friends happy and healthy through play and exercise. While some, such as the Toronto Humane Society, require volunteers to be 18 or older, others including the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Ontario SCPA, accept younger teens (12+ and 14+, respectively). You could also enquire about volunteer opportunities at veterinary offices. For horse lovers, there are therapeutic riding centres for children and adults with disabilities that take student volunteers, including the Community Association for Riding for the Disabled (CARD) (13+) in Toronto and Richmond Therapeutic Riding Association (16+) in Richmond, B.C.

Art galleries and museums of all sizes need community members to help run their programs and events, and many welcome teens. Edmonton-based Art Gallery of Alberta, for example, accepts special event, education and marketing volunteers (16+), while The McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Vaughan, Ont., asks youth (13-18) to help with art-making workshops, outdoor nature programs and gallery tours. City of Toronto Museums, Cultural Centres & Galleries lists its volunteer opportunities for high school students online. Is your son or daughter musically inclined? Local shelters and seniors’ homes welcome volunteer performances; or kids can contact music festivals in their area to see how they can help. High school students between the ages of 14-18 are eligible to volunteer at Toronto’s Luminato Festival.


After-school programs and children’s sports teams in your neighbourhood may accept student volunteer coaches or referees. Plus, the Special Olympics recruits student volunteer coaches in a variety of sports to provide skill training and competition preparation to athletes with an intellectual disability. There are lots of ways for young sports fans to help out behind the scenes at events such as charity road races or tournaments—everything from setup and cleanup, to registration, to handing out water to dehydrated participants.



Child- and elder-care centres can often use helpers for their craft programs. But another way for your teen to create beautiful things using paper, ribbon and other decorative objects is gift wrapping. Luckily, many charities raise money by offering gift wrap services in malls at holiday time: The Arthritis Society, for instance, has shifts available at Fairview Mall in St. Catharines, Ont., from Nov. 28 to Dec. 24; and the CNIB of Durham, Ont., is at Pickering Town Centre Nov. 24 to Dec. 24.


For teens who crave the thrill and excitement of large public events, check out this list of parades across Canada and contact a few favourites to see if they accept youth volunteers. Sticking with the holiday theme, Christmas parades are likely prospects, such as the Vancouver Santa Claus Parade which has positions available for those 16+, including route marshals, banner carriers, pacers and set-up/tear-down crew.


Most of Canada’s provincial and national parks, conservation areas, local “Green Neighbours” or community groups plan cleanup events, often around Earth Day in April, to remove garbage from trails, parks and other outdoor areas after the snow melts. In the summer, organizations such as LifeCycles in Victoria and Not Far from the Tree (16+) in Toronto match homeowners who have fruit trees on their properties with volunteer pickers, to harvest apricots, apples, plums and other fruit that would otherwise fall to the ground and go to waste.


Since today’s teens have grown up with technology, it might never occur to them that others would appreciate their expertise. Contact local seniors’ homes and immigration centres to see if they need help teaching non-digital natives how to use the internet, social media, computers or mobile devices. For example, Toronto-area ESS Support Services had a recent posting on charityvillage.com—a Canadian recruiting site for nonprofit organizations that allows volunteers to search for opportunities filtered by their location and age group—looking for young people who could help seniors who have cognitive issues use electronic tablets to enjoy music, explore photos, and play online games.