We all know how important it is to give back to our communities, but it can seem like quite the overwhelming task. This is especially true when our communities face so many challenges and we already have so much on our plates! But for one New York teen, addressing that challlenge was worth it.
Enter Sammi van Benschoten, a high school student in Manhattan. An active volunteer, Sammi already knew how to connect with local organizations and provide help. However, she realized that finding projects and serving the community didn't come so easily to others her age. What to do?
Sammi wanted to inspire her fellow Gen Zers to become more active in volunteer work, so she and her sister immediately turned to technology. The siblings created a volunteering app for young people called KidsGiving, which aims to help nonprofit organizations easily recruit volunteers for their biggest needs while simultaneously assisting high school students with finding local charities that they could support.
"It's important to know that, especially in New York... there are a lot of people who have very fortunate lives who can help others," Sammi says. From a young age, Sammi herself had volunteered alongside her parents at Covenant House, a youth-based homeless shelter. She attributes that experience with wanting to help other young people on their volunteering journey.
"We used to serve food at Thanksgiving because I think it's so important to give back on a holiday, especially because there are kids who don't necessarily have families to go home to," Sammi explains. This meant sacrificing her personal time to support her community—even while attending school full-time. "My sister and I have always volunteered," Sammi says. "When community service hours came around, it was pretty easy for us to fulfill our [requirements], but a lot of our friends were struggling. We just wanted to help them in a way that could introduce them to the different volunteering opportunities in New York."
The Kidsgiving app features a streamlined method of researching local nonprofit organizations that appeal to young people. The app includes a personalized list of nonprofits in the volunteer's area, a list of ways to set up a volunteering event, short descriptions of each charity (which can then be flagged as "favorites"), and an ability to create organization links to send to family and friends. There are also tabs to easily sign up for events, and contact information and waivers to help make the sign-up process more efficient.
One of the biggest challenges was expanding upon the list of nonprofits in the KidsGiving database. When Sammi began to research organizations to add to her app, she realized that many were completely unfamiliar to her. "There are so many [organizations], especially in New York, where you can volunteer or just donate. I think it's very important to have just one space where you can learn about all the different types of organizations you can work or volunteer with."
While initially Kidsgiving focused on the greater New York City region, it has since expanded to include organizations in New Jersey and Connecticut. In the future, Sammi hopes her app can service thousands of users and highlight the importance of volunteering to as many teenagers and young adults as possible.
As for how to select the right project, Sammi explains that young people should look at nonprofits that align with their personal values before they begin volunteering. She adds, "I think you should get to know the organization you're volunteering with and make sure that you are inspired by their mission. I think your work will be much better and you'll be more excited to do volunteer work."
This is especially true for Gen Zers, who tend to prioritize their passion projects. "For high schoolers at such a young age, I believe it's important to learn the value of volunteering," says Sammi. "When they're older, they can pass it on to more generations."
With Gen Z being one of the most socially aware generations, a hyper-local focus on the nonprofit needs in our own backyards is one of the best ways to make a meaninful contribution to our communities. Armed with Sammi's innovative KidGiving app—and with these positive experiences in mind—we can feel more prepared to go out into the world as model citizens and make the biggest impact possible.