In a down economy, hospitals and other agencies need teen and young-adult volunteers more than ever — and the tough summer job market is one reason they are increasingly answering the call.

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In a down economy, hospitals and other agencies need teen and young-adult volunteers more than ever — and the tough summer job market is one reason they are increasingly answering the call.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing. It gives kids exposure to different career paths,” said Beth Frydlewicz, volunteer director at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Mich., which will have approximately 500 student volunteers this summer.

“For many of them, it’s their first time out in the real world, and it gives them some exposure to other cultures and the protocol of a corporation, the culture and dress codes that are so important.”

The national average volunteer rate among people ages 16 to 24 — 23.4 percent — is more than double what it was in 1989, according to Corporation for Community Service, a federal agency that helps connect individuals with volunteer opportunities

Agencies often put limits on teen volunteers. For example, most hospitals do not allow teens to work with patients, and the Michigan Humane Society keeps younger teens from working alone with animals. But there are many other jobs, from pulling weeds to delivering hospital gifts, that teens can do.

“We need more and more volunteers to get engaged in their own community and their own schools,” said Angela Walker, manager of volunteer services for the United Way of Southeast Michigan, which has more than 1,000 teen and young-adult volunteers. “Volunteers can really give back to the community when things are being cut.”

Rachel Forche, 14, who will be a sophomore at Troy High School in the fall, helped organize her Girl Scout troop to make kitty forts for the Humane Society.

“A lot of the girls in our troop were very interested in animals,” she said. “We went to the Humane Society and there were limited things we could do, because of our ages. We found this project.”

She’s now planning another volunteer project this summer, involving health and fitness for younger children.

“You’ll remember volunteering your whole life, but you won’t remember going to the mall with friends,” she said. “And it’s great in the way you helped someone.”

Carla Miller, student coordinator for Beaumont Hospital in Troy, is so enthusiastic about teen volunteers, she can tell numerous stories about her young helpers. There was the young woman who grinned from ear to ear every time she got to help a patient, she said, and the young man who could barely speak English, but volunteered more than 340 hours in 10 months, helping with patient and family comfort in the surgery areas. He then called to thank the project chairman for allowing him to do it.

“I think that we are shortchanging the nation when we do not utilize our high-school students in this type of capacity, when we don’t offer them the opportunity to not only give back to the community but explore future career options,” Miller said.

Agency requirements

Plenty of nonprofit agencies — including hospitals and churches — accept student volunteers. But there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to volunteer:

• Most agencies want an application and may require recommendations.

• Some agencies have minimum age requirements, and others will ask parents to accompany younger teens.

• Some places offer teens regular volunteer hours, while others may need only occasional help.