Teens are often eager to make a positive difference in their communities yet don’t always know where to begin. They have the skills and energy to be active agents of change yet figuring out how to get started can be intimidating. Their reactions may range from thinking there is nothing productive to be done to being overwhelmed with all the possibilities.
The Starfish Story, by Loren Eisley, may help teens reflect on how they can make a difference in simple and direct ways - one person at a time.
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they will die.” “Son”, the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and thousands of starfish?” You can’t make a difference.”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…..
“I made a difference for that one.”
Youth Service America – www.ysa.org – has developed a list of 100 activities that teens can do to positively impact their communities. Here is the first part of that list which may give teens some simple and doable ideas for taking action to help others.
100 Ways to Make a Difference in Your Community 1. Help teach a younger child to read. 2. Help cook and/or serve a meal at a homeless shelter. 3. Gather clothing from your neighbors and donate it to a local shelter. 4. Make “I Care” kits with combs, toothbrushes, shampoo, etc. for the homeless. 5. Pack and hand out food at a local food bank. 6. Adopt a “grandfriend” and write them letters and visit them. 7. Visit senior citizens at a nursing home. 8. Rake leaves, shovel snow, clean gutters, or wash windows for a senior citizen. 9. Pick up groceries or medicine for an elderly person. 10. Go for a walk with a senior citizen in your community. 11. Deliver meals to homebound individuals. 12. Hold an afternoon dance for your local nursing home. 13. Teach a senior friend how to use a computer and the Internet. 14. Paint a mural over graffiti. 15. Invite local police officers to present a drug awareness or safety presentation. 16. Tutor a student that needs help learning English or some other subject.
17. Organize a canned goods drive. 18. Clean up a vacant lot or park. 19. Organize a campaign to raise money to purchase and install playground equipment. 20. Plant flowers in public areas that could use some color. 21. Volunteer to help at a Special Olympics event. 22. Set up a buddy system for kids with special needs in your community.
23. Raise money for Braille books for visually impaired people. 24. Read books or the newspaper on tape for visually impaired people. 25. Bring toys to children in the cancer ward of a hospital.
Janay Summers, an 18 year old student at Cassadaga Job Corps Academy (CJCA), recently volunteered with other CJCA students and staff to assist homeowners in Silver Creek with clean-up following the severe flooding which destroyed many homes. When asked why she volunteered to participate in this community service project, she said “If something like that happened to me, I would want someone to help”. Three years ago Summers, a resident of Buffalo, experienced the loss of her family’s home when it was destroyed by fire. She and her family were assisted by her father’s employer and the American Red Cross. She remembers what it felt like to have others help her family through their crises and said it “felt good to be able to help families in Silver Creek who had also lost their homes”. While Summers wasn’t able to help every family that had suffered a loss, she was able to work hard to help a few.
As in The Starfish Story, she “made a difference for that one”. n
For more resources to help teens live The Starfish Story, visit – Youth Service America – www.ysa.org Do Something – www.dosomething.org United We Serve - www.serve.gov Corporation for National & Community Service - www.nationalservice.gov
Forbes is the Business and Community Liaison at Cassadaga Job Corps Academy. She has an AAS in Nursing from Jamestown Community College and a BS in Human Services and Community with a concentration in women and family issues from SUNY Empire State College. She lives in Jamestown and is the mother of an adult son and grandmother of three.