How Can I Help My Community as a Student?

It might seem hard to effect change in your community as a student. But you CAN have a major impact as a young person. Here’s how!

By Owen Clarke

How can you help your community as a student? Well, first of all, we’re glad you’re asking!

Not all young people have the maturity to explore how they can give back to those around them. And before we dive in, let’s set one thing straight. Even the smallest actions can contribute to profound change. As the William James quote on the cover of our leader handbook reminds us:

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.

Secondly, it’s important to realize that you’re never too young to effect change in the world around you. You may not have the money or experience that adults do, but you have the power, energy and optimism of youth on your side. You also probably have a lot more time on your hands!

With that in mind, let’s dive into a few key points to remember as you start working to help your community.

Shift from Self Care to Community Care

One of the first steps in the process of serving your community is to shift your focus from “self care” to “community care.” Lost amid the hyper-connected online realms of today, it’s easy to forget how closely connected we are with our physical community—not our TikTok followers or our PlayStation friends—the people studying, working, playing and living around us!

There’s nothing wrong with taking time now and then to check in with yourself and make sure you’re physically and mentally healthy. That’s an important part of leading an impactful and fulfilling life.

But the hyperfocus on “self care” today can easily send us into a never-ending spiral of self-indulgence, where we’re constantly thinking about ourselves, putting our needs and desires ahead of others. If you’re struggling with something in life, whether it’s mental, emotional, or physical, often the best medicine is a little bit of perspective, getting out of your comfort zone and serving others in your community.

After all, many of today’s most common personal issues stem from a feeling of isolation, easily exacerbated by excessive time online. It helps to be reminded that there are people around us, many of whom are struggling with similar economic, social and emotional issues. Since you are a part of your community, what better way to take care of yourself than by shifting your focus from inward to outward, and caring for your community? By improving your community, you’ll reap the benefits as much as anyone else.

Whatever you’re going through, it’s guaranteed someone around you is struggling with something equally as taxing—if not far worse. Being confronted with this firsthand helps you put things in perspective.

Stay in Touch with Local Resources

Doing research online (like reading this article!) is a stellar way to start helping your community as a student. You can also check out online sites like VolunteerMatch to find places to serve.

But ultimately, local resources are much more in tune with pressing needs and opportunities for service in your community. So get out and pound the pavement!

Visit local schools, churches, homeless shelters, food banks, retirement homes (elders LOVE seeing young people show up to visit) and other organizations in your community to make a face-to-face connection and learn about their needs. Many times, all these organizations need is your time and hard work! Here’s a longer list of places you can start your search:

  • City, state and national parks
  • Food banks
  • Libraries
  • Animal shelters
  • Retirement homes
  • Museums and historical landmarks
  • Homeless shelters
  • Community fitness and athletic centers
  • Schools
  • Women’s centers
  • Political campaigns
  • Hospitals
  • Religious institutions like churches, mosques and temples
  • Arts centers

Even if you don’t have the time to start volunteering on a regular basis, checking in with community organizations will help you stay abreast of where the needs are and the opportunities you have to serve & make a difference.

Follow the Money

Sure, money isn’t everything. Dedicated hearts, minds and hands are far more powerful than dollars. But money is key to accessing food, materials, equipment, land and other resources used to effect positive change. It’s an important piece of the puzzle.

Raising money for charitable causes is one of the most simple and effective ways to make a difference in your community as a student. You may not have tons of money in your bank account—and neither will your friends—but starting a fundraiser isn’t as hard as it might seem. There are tons of stories on our Foundation website about young VISIONS leaders and alum raising money for great causes. The trick is to do what you know!

One VISIONS alum is raising funds by selling jewelry and clothing on Depop. If you have a large collection of clothing or jewelry, maybe that’s a great strategy for you as well! If you’re a passionate chef, maybe host a bake sale. If you’re a bit of a hoarder (aren’t we all?) and have too much junk in your closet or attic, organize a garage sale. If you enjoy painting or makeup, set up a booth at a local fair and offer face painting for kids. If you and your friends play board games and have a large collection of games and memorabilia, organize a charity board game night or used board game sale. If you’re active on a sports team, club, or in a church, mosque, or other religious organization, start your fundraising there. The options are limitless.

Even if there isn’t a niche you can work from, there are tons of community focal points that you can use to fundraise. Many students simply set up a shop in a popular area, like a city park or university quad, and talk to people passing by, sharing stories about the cause they’re passionate about and encouraging them to donate. Others can raise funds entirely through social media. (If you have a large and active social media following, this is a great strategy!)

The point is that no matter what your interests or skills are, there’s a way for you to put those interests and skills forward to help raise money for charitable causes in your community.

Again, money isn’t everything, but even charitable organizations need cash to function. Your efforts to raise money as a student can make a serious impact.

Take a Service Trip

Last but not least, take a service trip to get outside your comfort zone! This isn’t a direct way to help your community as a student, but it will give you the knowledge and inspiration to start serving when you return.

The VISIONS lifestyle immerses you in a community entirely different from your own, whether it’s the rugged plains of the Montana Blackfeet Reservation, the airy heights of the Peruvian Andes, or the sun-soaked Caribbean beaches of the Dominican Republic and the British Virgin Islands.

Yes, these communities are a world away from your community back home, both physically and culturally, but these experiences are a stellar crash course in positive change. When you dive deep with our service adventures, you kickstart your mind and viscerally experience the ways you can make a difference back home.

Watching how VISIONS programs work to effect positive change in the communities we work in is the perfect way to educate yourself with tactics and techniques you can use to bring impactful change back to your community.

VISIONS in The New York Times