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A student-run volunteer site continues to grow

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 6, 2009 - For high school seniors like Simone Bernstein, fall is filled with homework and tests and college applications galore. The 17-year-old Clayton High School student has another commitment that she says can take up to two hours each night: managing a volunteer website she created over the summer.

St. Louis Volunteen.com is a clearinghouse of volunteer information for teenagers who are looking to fulfill school requirements on get involved on their own. Roughly 40 organizations post their long-term volunteer opportunities on the site, and short-term positions are posted on a Twitter page.

Bernstein is an avid volunteer, having worked at The Magic House and most recently at Saint Louis Crisis Nursery and a veterans' hospital.

She created the website out of frustration stemming from her volunteer search. “It was difficult for me to find those opportunities,” Bernstein said. “There were no listings for kids 12 to 17 – and those are the age groups that want to and have time to volunteer.”

With plenty of free time over the summer, Bernstein launched her first web endeavor. She wanted to make sure that middle and high school students could find the names of interested volunteer groups, and that the would-be volunteers wouldn't find outdated information or dead links (her searching pet peeves).

The volunteer listings on her site are organized by category, including animal/nature, health care/hospice and museums. Bernstein contacts the organizations (or increasingly they are contacting her), writes concise position descriptions, includes any age limitations, adds links and posts contact information. She said her hope is that young people get a sense of the range of volunteer positions available.

“There are so many more benefits kids can get volunteering than having a job, which is hard to get for a 12-year-old in this economy,” Bernstein said. “I want to show kids that, yeah, you can spend time at home on the internet or going to movies, but there are so many chances to give a few hours and get so much from it.”

Bernstein said the site received 2,000 unique visitors over a recent six-week period. She doesn’t know how many students are visiting the site or exactly how many volunteer organization-teen matches are being made. Some schools are now linking to St. Louis Volunteen.com from their community service pages.

Bernstein is planning a St. Louis youth and volunteer fair on April 11 at The Magic House. The plan is for up to 40 organizations to have booths and spread the word about their volunteer positions.

She said she is planning to maintain the site after she starts college -- whether that's in St. Louis or not. And while she's managing it solo this year, Bernstein said she's hoping to eventually hand off some of the responsibilities to a student who is more in the middle of the site's age range.

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