Youth volunteers across Orange County are finding many ways to give of themselves and to make a difference in their communities.
By getting involved, either in individual projects or through membership in school service clubs, high school students are addressing the serious social issues that are impacting neighborhoods: poverty, drugs, homelessness, illiteracy, loneliness, children's needs, care of the elderly and preservation of the environment.
A common question asked by students is: "I want to help, but what can I do?"
No matter what your interests or talents may be, there is a volunteer opportunity to get you involved. Often the simplest gesture or personal commitment can truly make a difference in the community or in someone's life, according to the Volunteer Center of Greater Orange County, which publishes a booklet titled "101 Ways You Can Make a Difference."
Among the suggested activities:
* Once a month, collect all the magazines you have around the house and take them to a medical clinic. Patients often have a long wait; magazines help pass the time.
* Recycle newspapers and aluminum cans and use the money to buy food certificates. Give the certificates to a teen shelter.
* Visit elderly people in your neighborhood and offer to help with housework, laundry or yardwork. Afterward, prepare lunch for them.
* Each month tackle one task in your neighborhood--a park cleanup, a recycling project, a graffiti removal paint-out.
* Bake cookies. Take them to a shelter or senior center to celebrate everyone's "unbirthday."
* Design a flyer asking all the spectators that come to the weekly youth baseball, soccer or basketball games to bring a can of food as a symbolic "admission." Donate the canned food to a local food distribution center.
* Organize neighborhood children, or ask participants from music, dance, gymnastics or baton classes, to put on a talent show for a small admission fee. Use the money raised to buy supplies for your neighborhood Boys & Girls clubs.
* Collect fabric, yarn and art supplies for use in craft projects by developmentally disabled adults at various centers.
In Orange County, the Volunteer Center's Youth Leadership Council serves as a network to promote volunteerism and community service among high school students.
The council is made up of 50 student representatives from 39 of Orange County's public and private high schools. It educates student leaders about community needs and provides training in the skills needed to help meet these needs.
Council members meet monthly to share ideas, resources and project information, which they then take back to their respective schools.
Involvement and commitment is encouraged from many different groups. For example, at the recent Orange County Summit for Children, Fountain Valley High School's Royal Regiment provided entertainment, members of the Economics Club served as youth facilitators, and members of the Key Club organized arts and crafts for the children.
The Youth Connection newsletter, distributed to all Orange County high schools by the Volunteer Center, highlights many ongoing projects that welcome teen volunteers.
Here is a sampling of the many volunteer activities:
* Adam Walsh Center (Orange)--Dedicated to preventing child abuse; looking for clerical help; minimum age is 16; Stella Avina, (714) 558-7812.
* Anaheim Parks, Recreation and Community Services (Anaheim)--Plants trees throughout Anaheim; groups and individuals need to bring shovels and work gloves; monthly project on Saturdays; Debra De Meo, (714) 491-8733.
* Anaheim City School District (Anaheim)--Needs volunteer tutors to help students (K-6) with reading, spelling and basic math; Mel Lopez, (714) 535-6001.
* Cambodian Family Inc.--After-school tutors needed to work one-on-one with Cambodian youngsters ages 7-15; Roberta Jones, (714) 571-1966.
* City of Santa Ana Keep America Beautiful (Santa Ana)--Needs 20-30 volunteers to help with neighborhood cleanups on the third Saturday of every month; Claudia Reiwald, (714) 667-2754.
* Combined Health Appeal (Santa Ana)--Raises funds for 24 nonprofit health agencies; needs volunteers to stuff envelopes and collate campaign kits; Loretta Moody, (714) 557-4811.
* Extended Education for Excellence (Santa Ana)--Needs tutors for elementary school children in math, science and reading; help with homework; Marty Baker, (714) 558-5836.
* Food Distribution Center (Orange)--Needs clerical assistance and help in packing food; Melody Berger, (714) 771-1343.
* High Hopes Head Injury Program (Costa Mesa)--Needs volunteer swim therapy aides to work one-on-one with students, helping them with swimming exercises; Dee Alexander, (714) 646-7458.
* Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum (Huntington Beach)--Needs volunteers to greet visitors and to help answer the phones; Ann Beasley, (714) 960-3483
* Irvine Kid Phone (Irvine)--Needs volunteers to answer telephone calls from latchkey kids and engage with them in conversation; Linda Zuba, (714) 756-9276.
* Irvine Ranch Water District and Shadetree Partnership (Irvine)--Looking for youth volunteers to plant trees on both public and private properties in cities throughout Orange County; Bob Snell, (714) 453-5806.
* La Habra Child Development Center (La Habra)--Needs volunteers to read stories to small groups of children; Faye Campbell, (310) 905-9630.
* Manor Care Nursing Center (Fountain Valley)--Assist the elderly on field trips, with crafts and with social events; requires a four-hour weekly commitment; training is provided; Beth Richards, (714) 241-9800.
* Marriott Villa Valencia Health Care (Laguna Hills)--Would like activity assistants to visit or entertain elderly residents; flexible hours; minimum age is 16; Joy Williams, (714) 581-6111, Ext. 431.
* Parkhurst Retirement Center (Fountain Valley)--Come by yourself or bring a group of friends to entertain elderly residents on special occasions, such as birthdays and holidays; orientation will be provided; Bonnie Ponce, (714) 962-5531.
* Project Cuddle (Costa Mesa)--Handle phone calls, write letters for this agency, which supports abused, abandoned and drug-exposed children and their families; Debbie Magnusen, (714) 432-9681.
* Social Model Recovery Systems (Santa Ana)--Agency is trying to reduce drug-related problems; wants help with typing, filing and mailing; proficiency in Vietnamese or Spanish would be a plus; minimum age 16; Zelene Cardenas, (714) 542-3396.
* Someone Cares Soup Kitchen (Costa Mesa)--Needs volunteers to help prepare and serve food to hungry people of all ages; Merle Hatleberg, (714) 646-8181.
* Volunteer Center of Greater Orange County (Santa Ana)--Input volunteer time sheets into a database and make follow-up phone calls to volunteers; training will be provided; Louise Hall, (714) 953-5757.