Volunteerism is a way to create meaningful memories while giving back to the community at the same time.
On a practical note, volunteering looks terrific on college applications, can be applied to required service hours for schools and scholarships, such as Bright Futures, and is an ideal way to gain professional references and life experience. For kids, volunteering is a great first step to discovering what they enjoy doing and find most rewarding. Having volunteer experience means applicable skills and experience for teens’ résumés, both workforce and college bound. And don’t forget that happy feeling unique to the experience of helping others. Talk to your kids and encourage them to volunteer, and don’t forget, adults can help too. If you can’t volunteer with your teens, then play the cheerleader and help them stay committed.
Ocala has a plethora of opportunities for various interests, and there are a few teen-friendly options where students can earn hours for school and scholarships. Each organization does great things and has plenty of work to keep you busy. So find what’s closest to your home or closest to your heart, and volunteer your time.
Humane Society of Marion County
Who wouldn’t love to spend time with a furry, four-legged friend? Though we can’t adopt all the dogs and cats of the world—I know I would certainly like to—we can all do something to help, and the Humane Society, a no-kill animal shelter, is the purrfect place to start. The first step is an application and orientation. Orientations are held every second Thursday of the month and every third Saturday at 2pm. If under 18, volunteers must have a waiver signed by a parent or legal guardian. The minimum age is 14, and if under 16, the volunteer must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Tracy Pettrey of the Humane Society describes the shelter as a place where there is “never a dull moment.” Their website has full descriptions of each position, which includes walking and training dogs, petting cats, assisting with special events, grooming, building fences, helping with clerical tasks, photography, outreach and education. Volunteers are also needed in the thrift store, the profits of which go to helping animals in need.
Munroe Regional Medical Center
MRMC has an excellent program for teens in grades 9 through 12. Under the direct supervision of adult mentors, teens have the opportunity to interact with patients and learn about the medical field. Jennifer Wood, the executive director of volunteer and senior services, describes the program as “a great way to get a step into the corporate world.” Learning responsibility, compassion, accountability and a solid work ethic is valuable regardless of future career path. Teens learn about patient interaction, the gift shop, information desk and even working with computer data. The program tailors to what volunteers are most interested in. The program has been going strong, with many teens returning to volunteer year after year.
“It really is a win-win for everybody,” says Wood. Each year, there are two programs, one that lasts throughout the school year and one for summer.
Habitat for Humanity of Marion County
Most of us have heard of Habitat for Humanity, an organization that provides housing and hope to families in need, so why not go ahead and get involved? Kids as young as 14 can volunteer, but there are rules regarding where and when. The website makes it easy to set up a profile and search for age-appropriate volunteer sites nearby. Volunteers can even use the site to sign up. Those under 18 should look for landscaping, sod and painting days, as well as demolition days. Students can also earn hours by donating bulk items or providing lunch to volunteers, options ideal for those with already busy schedules.
Volunteer Coordinator Brittney Fish,
Marion Therapeutic Riding Association
MTRA is a PATH Premier accredited therapeutic riding association that uses horses to heal those with physical or emotional disabilities.
Volunteer Coordinator Karen Holmberg says, “It’s just a very rewarding, fun atmosphere.” Volunteers receive training and go through an orientation, the dates of which are included on the website. Anyone interested will also go through a level-two background check. Other than that, all that’s required is a willingness to learn and a desire to help others.
Student volunteers don’t need to worry about school conflicts because many lessons take place after school in the afternoons and early evenings. The association has had volunteers ranging in age from 14 to 80.
MTRA works to assign tasks that best suit a volunteer’s skills and interests, including administrative help, side walkers or maintenance assistance.
Florida Horse Park
If you live in a major horse capital, why not work with horses? The Florida Horse Park serves as a venue for world- and Olympic-level disciplines, ranging from polo and dressage to cross-country. With thousands of spectators, you can bet they need plenty of volunteers. Volunteers must be 16 years old or have a parent or guardian’s consent to volunteer. No prior horse experience is required, and all volunteers will take part in a quick briefing and instruction course. Volunteer jobs depend on the day and event but may include general park help, including maintenance, tree trimming and office work, not to mention event help. Check out the website’s calendar of events to view volunteer positions, and contact the events eirector, Ellen Marie Ettenger, for more information.
Hospice of Marion County
With compassion and care, Hospice of Marion County supports patients and families dealing with a terminal diagnosis. Volunteers must be 16 years old, and applications are available on the website. Now is an exciting time to get started, as Hospice officials have recently started on a special teen pilot volunteer program.
The Volun-teen program began in June, with one volunteer shift a week during the summer months and twice a month during the school year.
Director of Volunteer Services Connie Storms says, “I think it will enrich the lives of the teens and other volunteers in our thrift stores.”
Volunteers can work on various projects throughout the year, and help is also needed in five area thrift stores that help fund hospice care to patients in need. Students may also assist as receptionists or greeters and help out at the office answering phones.
Marion County Programs
Marion County itself has lots of volunteer opportunities, including Animal Services, The Public Library System, Veteran’s Services, Parks and Recreation and 4-H. Each department requires a background check and human resources application, which is conveniently located on the county website, marioncountyfl.org, along with more information on each department. With so many options, there’s something for everyone.
Marion County Animal Services
Marion County Animal Services takes in strays, lost pets and rescues, essentially, animals that could use lots of volunteer love and care. The shelter is open-admission and works with foster homes and rescue groups to give animals a healthy, happy life. During their stay, animals are provided care, safety and a clean environment, and it’s the volunteers that help make this happen. By playing with the animals, grooming them, teaching them manners and encouraging them to trust, volunteers help socialize the animals and get them ready for adoption. By getting to know the animals, volunteers can match adopters with their perfect pet. Volunteers must be at least 16 years old and submit a volunteer application form by mail or fax. Younger than 16? You can still help by hosting donation collection drives. In demand items include toys and blankets as well as handmade items like cat hammocks and catnip toys. You can find step-by-step instructions for making comfy kitty hammocks on the county’s website.
Marion County Veterans Services
Veteran Services, as the name implies, provides assistance to local veterans. Serve those who serve by cleaning and maintaining the beautiful Ocala-Marion County Veterans Memorial Park. In the past, teens and groups have done service projects that included raking leaves, sweeping sidewalks and washing monuments, plaques and benches. Those under 21 require adult supervision to volunteer.
Marion County Public Libraries
“The library’s the place to be in the summer,” says Library Community Liaison Karen Jensen. With the summer heat, who could argue? The library has a strong volunteer program with eight locations to choose from. Teens 14 and up can volunteer, and applications are on the county’s website. Interested volunteers will be interviewed to determine availability and interests. New teen volunteers attend a short orientation to familiarize themselves with how the library works.
“Each library division is a little unique,” says Jensen. “So there’s something for everyone.”
Applications are processed throughout the year, and they receive a lot of teen applications, especially in the summer, as June and July are the busy months. Get that application in quickly because it takes a little time to be processed. The library always needs help in areas like circulation as well as with special programs such as readings and those in the children’s activities area. A great opportunity just for teens is YALLA, or Young Adults Leading Library Awareness, where teens gain leadership experience by helping to plan other teen-oriented programs.
Marion County Parks and Recreation
The Marion County Parks and Recreation department provides outdoor programs and recreational opportunities to all area residents. As a volunteer, you can appreciate and help the parks near you by assisting the people who keep them up and running. Volunteers must be 16 years or older, and teen groups and organizations can work on specific projects or special events.
Marion County 4-H
4-H is all about participation in rural-based projects and teaching citizenship and valuable life skills. Traditional 4-H projects include gardening and raising a hog or steer, but there are also non-traditional projects like woodworking and bicycle safety. Volunteers can start at age 14, and interested teens should contact the 4-H office to learn more about current opportunities and programs.