I once asked a room full of teenage girls at a NYC shelter, “what would you change in your city or country?” A twelve-year old girl, bearing a serious look on her face, immediately answered, “I want to see the number of teenage pregnancies [go down].” Another replied, “I want to create support groups for children who are bullied because they live in homeless shelters.” And, one more replied, “I want to help build gardens in poor neighborhoods across the U.S.”
There I sat, amazed and inspired by these thoughtful answers. These were no ordinary teenage girls. These were girls with ambitious visions to change the world! Moments, like these, are the reason volunteering with homeless teens has been, and still is, one of my most beautiful and rewarding experiences. That’s not to say it’s been easy. Far from it! I have invested a lot of time and effort into earning the girls’ trust and respect. But, if I had given up on trying to connect with the girls, the conversation I described, above, may never have happened.
How, then, can we empower girls at homeless shelters to change the world? We can start by volunteering at local shelters to give these girls support and confidence. You can try some of these steps to get going:
Step 1: Recruit others to join you. Tell your friends about your interest in helping teen girls in homeless shelters, and ask whether they would like to join you. Perhaps, at some point, you may have shared a desire to “give back” or “make a difference” with others. Reach out to those people, tell them about your interest and solicit their help. Whoever you reach out to, keep in mind that we have to respect others’ fears and hesitations. Because we are eager to make a difference doesn’t mean others may be ready.
Step 2: Choose/Reach out to an organization. Once you have recruited a few people, who are ready to take the next step in volunteering, choose the organization/shelter you want to help. This organization should service homeless teens. Phone them and express your interest in volunteering.
Now, you may encounter little to no enthusiasm for your help. Or, you may be greeted with sheer excitement. It all depends on the way the organization is set up, how it’s funded and its past experiences with volunteers. Some organizations, simply, may not be ready to bring in volunteers. But, don’t give up! When you do find one that needs volunteers, ask if you could come in and talk to them about areas the shelter may need support. This will help you better manage your expectations, as to what it means to help homeless girls. It will also give you valuable information to take back to your team of volunteers.
If the shelter is open to you volunteering, but cannot give you a specific area where you can help, then this is your time to get creative. Ask your group about their hobbies, like sewing, cooking, singing, public speaking and dancing. Think about how can you turn one of these into a project that the girls can work on or be a part of.
If you are still unsure of how you can help, then you and your group could put together some bags and ask the shelter to spend some time with the girls. Who does not like a cute bag with a gift? It’s a great icebreaker. Fill the bags with small items, like nail polish, hand creams, face products and other items that girls love. Be honest with the girls. Say you’re new at this and wanted to meet and get to know them. Ask about their interests, in terms of hobbies or what they are passionate about. Ask about their ambitions, too: what do they want to become when they grow up? Any information you collect can be used to determine how you can best help.
If nothing else…
Step 4: Show the teens love and support. This is very important for the girls, who sometimes may have a hard time feeling accepted or understood. In those cases, your love and support may be the one thing that helps them get through the years to come. From my own experience with childhood poverty, I am thankful for the sincere attention given to me by other adults. They made me feel loved at a time of hardship.
All in all, it’s important to know that we all have something to offer. Only when you see, firsthand, the needs of others do you understand how much you have to give.
I hope this was helpful and has given you enough tips to ignite the fire we all have in us to make a difference in the lives of children, so that they may change the world.
I’m curious, do you have any tips you’d like to share?