Family Together and Teen Program Volunteer Vacations

Family volunteer vacations, once known as voluntourism, are back in action as the global pandemic comes under control. From community service to building homes, environmental research projects and teaching, travelers are looking for ways to give back. The concept of mixing volunteer activities with seeing the world dates back several centuries to the work of missionaries. It really took hold in the 1960s with John F Kennedy’s Peace Corps as a way to see the world.

Old man and woman kneel on ground to garden.
Ann Sweeney volunteered in Cuba with Global Volunteers to help Cubans plant new gardens. Photo c. Global Volunteers

Family Volunteer Vacations for All Ages

Many organized programs focus on volunteer vacations, close to home or abroad, for the entire family. Local charities have always relied on volunteer help, of course. Now, many welcome short-stay visitors to contribute a helping hand wherever they can.  Tourists are welcome as groundskeepers and chauffeurs, for example, if they plan ahead with the Orlando charity, Give Kids The World. GKTW is a short-stay residential village for children with life-threatening illnesses. Those who have “Made-A-Wish” to visit the themeparks head to Orlando. The GKTW charity relies on many volunteers each week to meet their guests’ needs.

Blaze Trails Across the US Together While Volunteering

The American Hiking Society spearheads the annual volunteer effort, National Trails Day. They also run cheap, week-long camping trips with small, friendly groups on trail-clearing and trail-blazing projects. Participants must be able to hike at least 5 miles per day and be accompanied by a parent or guardian unless over 18-years of age. They’ve also begun a popular program of alternative spring breaks for small groups of college students.

Do Conservation Projects on Family Volunteer Vacations

Houseboats on a river in Brazil.
Elevate Destinations offers a Brazil Family Adventure that is also a family volunteer vacation because guests work in local communities along the river.

Elevate Destinations is a highly regarded luxury adventure tour company. Their past trip to Haiti was selected as a National Geographic Traveler “Tours of a Lifetime.” Take your family on an adventure tour in one of their fascinating destinations on an itinerary specifically tailored to fit your family’s interests, including local service. They regularly offer exciting volunteer trips, such as an African safari in Kenya where you can work with lion conservationists. Another Kenya adventure gives you the opportunity to work with tribal communities. Participants will learn about tribal skills, traditions and rituals.

Enrich Your Travels with Cultural and Humanitarian Volunteering

Global Volunteers is a non-profit, non-sectarian, international organization based in St. Paul, Minnesota. They have run short-term human and economic development projects throughout the world for over 30 years. Having worked in 32 countries on six continents, they are currently offering projects in 13 countries. A spokesperson says they “have placed hundreds of families in meaningful, educational service projects in nearly all those countries.” Typically, many ongoing projects are open to families traveling with kids under age 15 during school breaks and summer. Tasks include caring for infants and pre-schoolers, teaching conversational English and health care. Active volunteers assist in light construction, building maintenance and planting school and household gardens. is another resource founded by Kimberly Haley Coleman, herself a mother of two toddlers. They organize and offer a variety of one-week international family volunteer vacations. These are service trips whose mission is to “encourage people to immerse themselves in a unique way of giving back.” Families can review upcoming service projects on the Globe Aware website. Get in touch with them to find out if they are appropriate for different age children. Ms. Coleman notes that many young families want their children volunteering at younger ages. Global Aware is committed to developing opportunities where even the very young can participate (such as helping to build a clay stove in a Latin village.) They note that foreign languages and cultures can be easily embraced by family volunteers.

An operator of worthwhile tours called i-to-i organizes TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) training opportunities for travelers. There are intern trips to a handful of fascinating locations such as China, Spain, Thailand and Cambodia.

Teen Volunteer Vacation Opportunities Around the World

There’s one group with 50+ years’ experience and the endorsement of National Geographic. Because of their science research trips, Earthwatch is respected around the world. Their Teen Team Expeditions are hands-on trips that aren’t only educational. Teens on these trips make a real difference and help the places they visit. The organization offers all the tools, training, and experiences their volunteers need to make an impact. Activities range from snorkeling to tracking sea turtles, monitoring climate change and conserving wild bees. Teen Teams are exclusive to 15- to 18-year-olds and run during the summer months.

The U.K. based Projects Abroad has offered tailor-made group trips for more than 30 years. Join other students, sports teams, or simply groups of friends in traveling abroad to help others. They also offer two, three and four-week summer programs for 15 to 18-year-olds. Projects Abroad gives volunteers the option to custom-design a placement to suit their goals and interests. Groups focus on teaching projects as well as conservation, archaeology, childcare, sports, law, veterinary medicine and animal care, human rights, and other subjects.

Habitat for Humanity offers teens the opportunity to help construct and rehabilitate homes in their communities, across the US and abroad. Habitat for Humanity often has one-day volunteer opportunities as well as longer term projects.

Group of young interns taching English to foreign students.
Book a family volunteer vacation for your teen as an intern to teach English as a foreign language overseas. Photo c. i to i.

Think Global, Act Local: Volunteer Vacations in the New York City Area

Volunteering opportunities don’t have to come from exotic locales. Often those in need are right in our own backyards.  With that in mind, since our backyard is New York City, we decided to scour around for valuable work that students can do any time of year.

Is your teen interested in “learning the ropes”? The Hudson River Sloop Clearwater welcomes 4-6 volunteers for week-long stays to sail, assist and learn from the permanent crew. Participants must be at least 18-years-old during the mid-April until mid-November season. Since 1969, the Clearwater has offered environmental education and organized music festivals along the Hudson, while working towards the restoration and protection of the river. Once aboard, volunteers may get a taste of everything from boat maintenance and daily chores to sleeping below decks. Sailing experience is not a requirement, and this is a great way to learn.

Junior Achievement of New York is a non-profit organization that bring volunteers together with students K-12. Jobs include helping to inspire, encourage, and engage kids through in-class and after school activities. These programs are designed to prepare students for their future plans and economic success. The program offers daily and weekend volunteer opportunities.

Central Park Conservancy offers a handful of volunteer opportunities, from picking up trash to pulling weeds and painting rails. Sign up for one of their gardening volunteer opportunities in advance; space is limited. Participants must be at least 18 years of age.

United Way of Northern New Jersey strives to bring the basics, education, income and health to everyone. Deliver food to elementary schools or help the program develop agendas and initiatives. It’s a way togain important skills crucial for entering the workforce.

We welcome you to share any other family volunteer vacation opportunities you find in the Comments field below.

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1 Reply to “Teen And Family Volunteer Vacation Opportunities”

  • On June 4, 2011, American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day will bring together outdoor enthusiasts across the country for the 19th annual celebration of America's magnificent trail system and its countless supporters and volunteers.

    See for details on one of the 2,000 events near you.

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