Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images Spencer Platt/Getty Images News/Getty Images
By Anna Brooks

Growing up in one of the busiest cities in the world, I was made aware of the different kinds of people around me from the time I was little. On the subway, I would notice the men with their fancy suits and the woman in their high heels, but I would also notice the people with dirty old coats, covered in rags.

New York City is a perfect example of an uneven distribution of wealth. We have some of the richest people in the world with Upper East Side apartments, while also having the second highest homeless rate, topping 77,000 people. All of this isn’t to criticize those who have made it big, but more to inspire those who are more fortunate to help those in need.

On any given day, I can pretty much guarantee that you’ll run across homeless people begging for money or food, no matter which neighborhood you live in. I think this was what inspired me to give back to others.

I genuinely do enjoy volunteering. It is an act that makes you feel better about yourself. Utilizing your ability to help people in need is something that we should all participate in more often. So, whether you’re volunteering because of a school mandated 25 hours of service, a feeling of self-accomplishment, or a sincere enjoyment of volunteerism, I’ll help you with some of the best (and worst) ways to give back.

Personally, I’ve been taught that giving money to homeless people is a less effective form of donating, because it is hard to know how that money gets spent. It’s probably better to give little bags of chips, or bottles of water. This is just one example of trying to weave volunteering into our daily lives. It really doesn’t take much to buy an extra granola bar and carry it in your bag so that you can give it to a homeless person.

For the people who are looking for a more active form of volunteering, one of my favorite activities is going to soup kitchens. If you’re looking for a quick in-and-out experience, this is not the way to go! In my experience with soup kitchens, I’ve found that it usually takes up about half a day — starting with preparing food and ending with serving food.

When I first started volunteering, an obstacle that I faced was age requirements. For safety reasons, a lot of organizations require people to be a certain age before they can volunteer. But this only motivated me to seek out the places that are open to people of all ages! There are so many charities in New York that are thrilled to have young people help out. So for all of the City teens out there who are feeling a little bit discouraged, if you are willing to do the research you will find there are plenty of places who need help from anyone.

Overall, volunteering is an act that should make everyone feel better about themselves. It is so important to give back to others; you don’t know peoples stories or how they became the way that they are, but a little act of kindness can brighten someone’s week. It’s not necessary to donate all of your money or to spend every weekend at your local homeless shelter, but by being aware of how to help others around you, the world will become a much better place.

New York City is one of the greatest cities to volunteer in, because while there are a lot of people in need, there are also a lot of people to help. So whether you’re a teenager like me, or an adult with little time, there is always a way for you to help!

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