THE BLOG
06/28/2013 04:45 pm ET | Updated Aug 28, 2013

'To Form a More Perfect Nation' and 'In Pursuit of Happiness': 10 Steps to a Rewarding Summer of Service

Summer is all about beach, relaxing, and fun in the sun, but you can also make this summer the most rewarding while increase your future happiness. You already know that community service and involvement are an important part of your resume, but community service can also provide a "giving high" and ignite a passion you never knew you had. Doing good for others feels good and will also reward you in the future when you start writing your college applications. Take it from me, without my community service and extracurriculars I wouldn't have been accepted in to my reach school. I've gained a lot of real world insights into the college selection process from my peers after a year of college. One thing that consistently stands out is that selective universities want more than great grades and test scores; they want students who are passionate. Many teens have trouble finding meaningful community service opportunities, much less something to get passionate about. It can feel like a hamster wheel, you realize you should get involved, but don't know how to get started in the first place. Here are 10 tips to help you spark your community service interest, find the time, make it yours, and make it fun this summer:

1. We all know summer goes by way too fast, so don't let that time anomaly surprise you. How many summers have you made big plans but never get around to them and before you know it school starts? You have to carve out time for your community service and make a plan. Just like making time for a sport or other important activity; scheduling it and making it routine helps ensure it happens. If you schedule 10 hours a week for service just think how quickly you can amass an impressive amount of service hours. Ten hours a week is a great goal and easily done in scheduled chunks of time. Just wake up twice a week semi-early and you'll be able to fit it in.

2. In order to make an impact you have to put in the time. Just like everything else, time and effort make success. You won't magically make your mark without putting in the hours. Once you make your schedule, stick to it and prepare yourself to work hard. Set your expectation that community service is hard work and that you will give it your all while you work. That mind set will make you stand out at the organization and make the time you give more valuable. A great attitude and work ethic will make you valued and can open doors to other opportunities and potentially great letters of recommendation.

3. Figure out what cause you want to help. The first step is think about what interests you or if there is a career that you are considering and find an opportunity that lines up. There are endless great causes and non-profits doing amazing work who would welcome a hard working teen ready to commit to a set summer work schedule. Read up on possible causes and see what sparks your interest; hunger, environment, animals, disadvantaged youth, literacy, poverty, seniors, childhood obesity, STEM, and the list goes on. Do your homework though ahead of time, because your community service hours should be preferably dedicated in one area of interest to make it count most. Random community service if fine, but ideally you want to find an area of focus to gain expertise and make more impact.

4. Look at organizations specifically targeted to young people such as
ysa.org, DonateDontDump.net and DoSomething.Org

5.Once you narrow your area of focus, network. This is where teachers, parents, family members and neighbors can really help you, but only if you ask. So ask everyone! You'll be amazed at the power of networking. Look for involved adults who donate, volunteer, or belong to a service organization like Rotary, Optimists, or Elks. This is how you can get hooked up with more interesting and rewarding community service opportunities.

6. Make the decision, commit, and recruit. Get your friends to join you. Create your own team and bring them in to help you make a difference. This will make the whole experience much more fun and you will be able to multiply your impact the more friends you recruit.

7. Celebrate your team as you serve. Make t-shirts, take lots of photos, post what your team is doing, and make it a movement. Track what activities you do, what goals you accomplish, and keep this list for later applications. Doing community service can be incredibly rewarding and heart warming. Enjoy that feeling and take it all in.

8. Keep a diary or log of your community service hours, activities, goals, and memorable experiences. Your future senior self will thank you when you get to writing applications for college and scholarships.

9. Thank those who helped you with a personal note at the end of summer. This is also the right time to ask for a letter of recommendation from the organization no matter how many years you have till graduation.

10. Make your plan to stay involved once school starts at a reduced schedule. Make it realistic and something you can commit to. Be sure to take into account sports and other extra curricular activities you have. Even if it's just one hour a week; do it. That one hour a week adds up to real results in the community and great experience for you.

The best summers are filled with experiences that create lasting great memories. Giving to others makes you feel great inside and when you are able to see successful results from your service, that feeling is multiplied exponentially. So celebrate America's Birthday this 4th of July and start make your plans for an awesome summer of service and pursue meaningful happiness.

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