Polygence blog / Research Opportunities and Ideas

Best Summer Volunteer Programs for High School Students

9 minute read

two people in masks filling up bags as part of a volunteer opportunity

What might be even better than pursuing a passion? Pursuing your passion while also being of service to your community.

Granted, volunteering for an organization won’t give you the freedom to go as in-depth as you would like to go in your favorite subject matter as, say, an independent passion project or immersive internship might, but it will expand your knowledge, introduce you to lots of new people, and may even open possibilities you had never considered. 

Some high schools require community service hours, and this might also be a good way to fulfill them in a meaningful way. Another great thing about volunteering is that many of these opportunities do not have an extensive application process or even application deadlines. (Some do.) Volunteering locally gives you a chance to get to know your community better, while foreign options are also a great way to travel and see the world.

For students in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, check out this robust volunteering/internship resource put together by Tiffany, one of our amazing Polygence students.

20 Summer Volunteer Opportunities for High Schoolers

20. Youth Conservation Corps

Hosting institution: National Park Service

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: Various

This is a great opportunity if you love physical activity and being out in nature. You can search projects by region and park. Projects might include trail maintenance, clearing invasive species, leading youth hikes, seed collection and propagation, painting, and more. Some programs need indoor help with research, digital photography, or social media. Each listing has a description of the projects. Note that the only YCC program that provides housing is Yellowstone National Park.

19. VolunteerMatch

Hosting institution: VolunteerMatch

Format: Various

Application deadline: Various

Similar to the AmeriCorps Volunteer Search (and in some cases they even share listings), this volunteer hub helps you filter opportunities based on location, causes, format, and age. One big differentiator from the AmeriCorps hub is that you can search via organization, which is helpful because it can show you different opportunities within the same institution.

18. U.S. Secret Service Student Volunteer Program   

Hosting institution: US Secret Service

Format: In-person (Washington, DC)

Application deadline: Ongoing                                                

Through participation in the USSS Student Volunteer Program, you’ll gain insight into the nature and structure of the Secret Service while gaining valuable personal and professional skills. You must be at least 16 years old and volunteer at least 12 hours per week. While this position is unpaid, there's an opportunity to receive academic credit and a rare hands-on experience with a reputable organization.

17. Teaching English Virtually

Hosting institution: Meaningful Teens

Format: Online

Application deadline: Ongoing                                                

If you love English and reading, this virtual volunteer program is a great way to spread that love to underserved American and international students. After you sign up and answer a few questions, you will be paired with one of about 15 different projects, including some in Ukraine, Kenya, and India. You’ll make new friends, learn about new cultures, and provide an invaluable service all through Zoom.

16. Summer Community Crews

Hosting institution: Student Conservation Association

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: n/a

This program focuses on cleaning up and tending natural areas in your own community, spaces such as parks, waterfronts, and urban landscapes in need of maintenance work. Some of these programs pay their volunteers, and others don’t. Check details for the community crew in your area. Some of these programs also provide year-round opportunities, with volunteer hours after school and on weekends. You’ll get a great workout outdoors, make friends, learn about conservation issues, and learn about environmental career opportunities directly from professionals in the field.  

15. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Hosting institution: St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Format: In-person (Memphis, TN)

Application deadline: Ongoing

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is a leading pediatric treatment and research center focused on childhood cancer. As a volunteer there, you will play games and do activities with patients, help their families in the cafeteria, run errands around the hospital, and generally improve the hospital experience using your interests and talents. You must have excellent communication skills. Volunteers under 18 must provide written consent by a parent or legal guardian prior to volunteering, and volunteers under 17 must be accompanied by an adult. St. Jude also has 8 affiliate clinics in other states, which also provide volunteer opportunities, but some have age limits. Check individual websites for junior volunteer details.

14. Spy Museum’s Volunteer Program

Hosting institution: Spy Museum

Format: In-person (Washington, D.C.)

Application deadline: Late June. Recruitment begins in July.

The Spy Museum has become a Washington, D.C. tourist hotspot, and as a volunteer there you will have the opportunity to welcome and educate guests from all over the world. If you’re a people person and love history and all things espionage, this role gives you the chance to work among the permanent collection, answer questions, and debrief guests after their tour.

13. Special Olympics Volunteer

Hosting institution: Special Olympics

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: N/A

It is said that the Special Olympics is “about transforming lives, including your own.” This organization has provided sports training and competition opportunities for individuals with intellectual disabilities worldwide for over 50 years. For volunteers aged 13-15, you can serve on tasks like scorekeeping during the competition or even as an official. You must be at least 16 to be a coach or assistant coach and work directly with athletes. Competitions are held throughout the year at different levels, including local, regional, national, and international.


12. Research Experience for High School Students (REHS) 

Hosting institution: University of California, San Diego

Format: In-person (San Diego, CA)

Application deadline: March 1st

Although it’s billed as a program to increase awareness of computational science, quite a few of the available mentor projects focus on the study of neurological disorders such as autism and Alzheimer’s and the modeling of neurons. During this 8-week volunteer program, you will gain exposure to career options, hands-on computational experience, work readiness skills, and mentoring by computational research scientists. You'll take part in regular lab meetings and participate in group discussions. At the end of the program, you will create a scientific poster highlighting your research and future career goals.  

11. Red Cross Youth Volunteer Opportunities

Hosting institution: American Red Cross

Format: In-person (Locations all over the U.S.)

Application deadline: None. This is an ongoing program.

Although the Red Cross’s zip code search for volunteer opportunities speaks mostly to adults, you can find information about hosting a blood drive, get resources for starting a Red Cross Club, learn about disaster preparedness, and more on the dedicated youth site. By taking part in a Red Cross Club, you can help fight measles in Africa and respond to local or national disasters. You can also sign up for their newsletter to get updates on more youth volunteer opportunities. 

10. National Gallery of Art’s Teen Volunteer Program

Hosting institution: National Gallery of Art

Format: In-person (Washington, D.C.)

Application deadline: Various

Although this is not technically a summer program, it is a great opportunity to work alongside National Gallery of Art staff and amongst its beautiful collection. This is an after-school program in which teen volunteers help staff prep for the museum’s many educational youth programs.

9. Meals on Wheels

Hosting institution: Meals on Wheels

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: Ongoing                                                

While the actual Meals on Wheels delivery program is limited to volunteers who are at least 18 years of age, teens can volunteer in the Central Kitchen and Dining Support groups. You can check out all of the volunteering details in this detailed volunteer handbook. This venerable institution has been around since the 1950s and has over 5,000 local chapters helping to serve meals to 2.4 million seniors nationwide. 

8. Local Animal Shelters

Hosting institution: Petfinder

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: N/A

Love animals? Animal shelters are always looking for volunteers. Depending on your age, your activities might include dog walking, reading to animals, cage clean up, animal socialization, administrative tasks, organizing donation drives, tech work, marketing, and more. This Petfinder search lets you look for animal welfare groups near you. You will need to click through to the local shelter’s website to find their volunteering opportunities and may need to call or email to set up a training date.

7. Library of Congress

Hosting institution: Office of the Librarian 

Format: Online and in-person (Washington, DC)

Application deadline: April 28th      

If you're interested in public programming, research and writing, exhibition development, and outreach, this four-week opportunity offers a unique experience. Your research will help develop content to support the new participatory learning space for youth and families in the Library of Congress.

6. Keystone Club

Hosting institution: Boys & Girls Clubs of America

Format: In-person (Location all over the U.S.)

Application deadline: None. This is an ongoing program.

The Keystone Club is a community service and leadership club for students ages 14 to 18. You can choose to join an existing club or start your own with as few as 6 members. As a team, you assess the group’s “sparks” or passions, and together plan and implement a community project that benefits your community. Your project can provide recreation, education, or other service activity. You work with an adult advisor and the program actually runs during the school year and in the summer.

5. Field Museum Teen Volunteers

Hosting institution: Field Museum

Format: In-person (Chicago, IL)

Application deadline: March 23

If you love science and kids, this is a great volunteer opportunity. You’ll work in the Crown Family PlayLab, interacting with 2-to-6-year olds, and at the interpretive carts in Stanley Field Hall. The Field Museum is home to 40 million specimens and artifacts and employs more than 150 scientists and researchers.

4. Feeding America

Hosting institution: Feeding America

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: N/A

This site lets you put in your zip code and find local food banks. You can then volunteer to pack or deliver food, raise funds, make donations, host a food drive, or help from home by making “home bags.” You can also get letters of completion for service hours when you drop off your donation.

3. Do Something

Hosting institution: DoSomething

Format: Online and in-person (Various)

Application deadline: N/A

This site lets you choose causes dear to your heart (such as mental health, environment, voting, gun safety, etc.) and then gives you prompts and ideas for action, some quite small (post surprise messages in a public place to boost self-esteem) and others more ambitious (hold a concert at a senior center). Some of the action ideas are attached to specific locations such as volunteering as a poll worker. You can filter through all the campaigns by cause, location (in-person or virtual), type, and time. The Strength Through Service program gives you the option to become an active changemaker while earning volunteer credit hours. This is a great site to get you motivated to make the changes you want to see in the world.

2. Children’s National Health System 

Hosting institution: Children’s National Hospital 

Format: Online and in-person (Washington, D.C.)

Application deadline: February 28

This hospital summer program lets you serve up to 50 volunteer hours during an 8-week period. Examples of some of the activities you may be involved in include helping with arts and crafts or other play activities in the hospital waiting areas, planning and implementing special events for patients, acting as hospital greeters, assisting staff at the Welcome Desk, and answering phones in the Volunteer Services office, sorting and distributing donations, and even assisting families in triage. Many hospitals offer volunteer opportunities for high school students so if you’re interested in this listing but don’t live in Washington, D.C., check your local hospital’s website for options.

1. AmeriCorps Volunteer Search

Hosting institution: AmeriCorps

Format: In-person (Various)

Application deadline: Ongoing                                                

Enter your zip code into this handy volunteer portal and then you can filter opportunities by distance, causes, skills, and age. You’ll find a wide variety of summer volunteer programs such as camps, tutoring, translator, tour guide, gardening, food delivery, and more. Just a heads up that you may be required to provide a background check for some of these opportunities.  

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