What Are You Doing to Give Back?


Chances are, your school asks you to do some volunteer work for credit throughout the year. And giving back to your community can be an amazing way to spend your time, let alone help out your college applications.

Sometimes, however, to get really enthused about a project, you need to get a little creative. That’s why we’re highlighting some of our fave projects we’ve heard about that might inspire you to get involved.


Have you ever thought about how much farther you can go, using the same amount of time and energy, when you have a bike, rather than simply walking?

A group of Chicago teens did. It turns out you can travel four times the distance on a bike. Which might make a small difference to you, if you're riding your bike from home to school. Yet for kids in Africa, where traveling to school can take longer than in the U.S. (up to 15 miles on foot), it prevents some from making it to school at all.

This is where World Bicycle Relief comes in. Started in 2006 following the Indian Ocean tsunami, World Bicycle Relief showed how valuable bikes can be in helping disaster victims and relief workers. This year, a group of teens from Chicago who attend the Wheaton Academy, raised $15,000 through a charity benefit and a partnership with a coffee company to support the project in Zambia.

Photo: A girl and her new bike.


In addition to raising money that supplied 100 bicycles for students in Zambia, the Chicago teens traveled to Zambia in June to deliver the bikes in person.

We spoke with Caleb, now 18-years-old and a freshman in college, about his experience in Africa.

"The most amazing thing about going to Africa is that, as 'wealthy' Americans, we have a tendency to have a 'savior complex' and sort of feel as though it's our responsibility to help everyone. But the thing about actually traveling to Africa is you learn that not only are the people motivated to help themselves, they have the energy to do it as well.

They are 90% there, they just need a little boost...what most of them are lacking is money, which is where we can help. That's what struck me most and it immediately destroyed my complex," Caleb explained.

"The benefit there was that we were able to create relationships with the people we were helping," he added.

Caleb's college has a study abroad program in Zambia and he plans to return to meet up with his new friends soon.

Learn more at Photo: Caleb with a family receiving one of the bikes.


Have you ever considered volunteering at a local animal shelter?

If you have a pet, you probably already know how much fun they can be, but they are also a big responsibility, which is why organizations like The Humane Society are so important for animals. We found out there are tons of ways to give back to animals when we checked in with the people there, who shared some stories from teens who have worked with them.

Catherine Habas volunteered at a shelter and has helped with pet adoptions, making videos and a "wall flower" board to help the dogs that get overlooked get some much-deserved attention.


Jordan Campfield volunteered at an Irish seal sanctuary and started a seal adoption program.

Finally, we we're super impressed with Theresa Edwards and Audrey Long who actually got their state legislature to pass a bill against puppy mills in Washington.

For more on how to get involved with The Humane Society, visit


Giving back internationally is an amazing thing but more often then not, there's more than enough opportunities to give back in your own back yard. That's where the Appalachia Service Project comes in. Teen from around the country travel to Appalachia, a region known for it's gorgeous landscapes as well as it's poverty, to volunteer to help people in desperate need of repairs to their home.

We spoke to two teens about their experience with the project this summer:

"This was my second summer on ASP and it was an amazing experience. This year my church went to Duff, Tenn., a small mountainous town in northern Tennessee. I worked on crew of seven finishing painting a hallway, painting and plumbing a bathroom, other odd jobs that had been left till the end of the summer. My family's situation was a bit extreme, their three daughters had been taken away from them by child services because their house was deemed uninhabitable.

Our work to finish the bathroom and restore running water to the house was the last thing that need to happen before the children could return home. The last day we gathered donations to help the family to pay their back water bill and restore water to the house for the first time in over six months.

One of my team members Dan said something great the beginning of the week that I will never forget 'When you ask people, so what do you do on ASP?' They answer, 'We drive 12 hours to a really small town, we sleep on the floor of a school for a week, eat not so great food and work all day in the hot sun'...IT WAS AMAZING." ASP is not about sleeping on the floor and working all day -- its about helping people [and] affecting someone's life in a truly positive way." -- Meg, 16, Wallingford, PA

Photo: Meg helps prepare materials for a home.


"I've gone on ASP two years and both years I've found a little more of myself. My second year the man whose house my team and I worked on was out with us every day helping us finish the projects we were given. We would start building something and he would come out of his tool shed and bring us a tool that would make the job go faster.

He didn't have such an easy life, his wife was just diagnosed with cancer a few months before ASP started its work. The last three days his wife gave us fruit to have with our lunches so it was healthier. Having someone be that generous and thankful for what we were doing really showed me that a stranger can truly care about you and your safety. Whenever it seems like no one cares about anything that I do I always remind myself of my experiences of ASP. I realize now that this trip has helped me become the person that I am today." -- Renee, 16, Ambler, PA

Learn more about ASP and get involved at

Photo: Renee works on repairing a home.


Do you wear a uniform to school? Did you know that most students in India do too?

That's what, combined with a slow afternoon at the office, prompted Sheena Matheiken to create a fundraiser known as The Uniform Project.

Inspired by the uniform dress she wore to school growing up in India, Sheena decided to once again start wearing just one dress everyday.

Now Sheena is a designer in NYC with a friend who is a stylist, so she's mixing up the look of her dress (she has seven) everyday, inviting people to check out her different looks, and, if they like what they see, to donate.

We spoke to Eliza Starbuck, who helps Sheena get creative with her outfits, about how you can get involved. Click through to read what she said.

Photo: Sheena in the dress.


CH1: Was there a particular event or circumstance that led you to start the uniform project?

Eliza Starbuck: "Growing up in India, Sheena took a few field trips to the slums in her city. Even when she was in school, she was impressed by the bright, positive and just alive kids she met there -- and knew that just a little [$360 a year] could keep them in school. She wanted to find a way to finance that year in an interesting, creative, and impactful way.

CH1: What fashion tips do you have for teens who wear a uniform to school? How can they make themselves look like individuals when everyone is dressed the same?

ES: "Accessorize! Find things that speak to you as a way to express yourself. I think Sheena wore a pair of stockings wrapped around her head the other day. Wear a sweater as a scarf. Be creative."

CH1: Outside of holding their own fundraiser and contributing, how can teens get involved with your project?

ES: "Give yourself a creative challenge. Make up an exercise in sustainability. Get together with some friends and see who can go the longest without buying anything new. Or go to a thrift store and challenge each other to get the most out of the same amount of money. Also, document your project. Send us an email about it and we'll help you show off your project."

CH1: Do you have a favorite outfit so far?

ES: I think the one from the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island this summer really pushed us creatively."

Check out all of Sheena's outfits at

Photo: Sheena in the dress.


As residents file suit over loss of power, volunteers come together to help the region.

A 12 year old saved his Grandmother's house from foreclosure.


How one student collected and gave away 20,000 books.


How this bike store is giving back to the community.

This organization helps student give back around the country and the world.


This teen started her own organization to help others learns.


These teens spent their winter break volunteering in NOLA.

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