Q: Years ago when I was a girl (too many years ago to count), my neighbor's house had some major damage due to flooding. The local community banded together and helped them clear out the bottom floor of the house and rebuild several damaged walls. The love and support was overwhelming, and being able to take part in that as a girl was such a rewarding experience. Now that I'm a mother myself to twin 14-year-old girls, I would love to find a way to get them involved in giving back to the community. I've heard of Habitat for Humanity, but what are some other organizations or opportunities that we could look into? 


A: Fantastic question. If Cher Horowitz can spearhead the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief Fund, then surely you can get your twin 14-year-old girls interested in volunteer opportunities that don’t necessarily involve candy-striping or building homes.


That said, hopefully the twins haven’t crossed too far into to the “dark side” — a somewhat scary place ruled by Sephora, endless text messages and Justin Bieber — and haven’t handed over their innate senses of selflessness to the unruly gods of puberty. Because really, what 14-year-old girl would really want to perform manual labor in a neighbor’s flooded basement? Not many, I’m guessing … unless all three of the Jonas Brothers, shirtless, were involved. 


Before you look into specific organizations (I recommend VolunteerMatch), I’d sit down with the girls and create a master list of their own interests and hobbies. What gets them fired up (aside from Taylor Lautner)? Do they love animals? Check to see what’s available at a local shelter, pet adoption program or even the zoo. Are the girls big “Top Chef” watchers with elevated palates? See what opportunities are available through a local organic farm, CSA, healthy eating program or community kitchen. There are surely environmental groups, both local and state-run, that need a few extra teenaged hands. Do the girls consider themselves extraordinarily au courant when it comes to fashion? Look into a local clothing drive or textile recycling program. Are they into construction and structural engineering? A youth program through a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate may be the way to go.


The point is that there are numerous community-based programs out there that desperately need teenage volunteers — I’d check to see if 14 is a kosher age since many programs only accept volunteers older than 16 — so there must be at least a couple of opportunities that speak to the personal interests of your daughters. The main issue here isn’t finding a volunteer opportunity; it’s more a matter of sparking that sometimes dormant sense of teenage do-goodery in your daughters if it hasn’t been sparked already.


If your teens balk at the idea of volunteering — the word “volunteer” itself has less-than-glamorous connotations that may frighten some 14-year-old girls — simply remind them that 59 percent of teenagers in the U.S. volunteer their time in some form or another. It isn’t some sort of hippie thing nor is it a chore. If cajoling is needed, use the phrases “karma,” “inspiring,” “rewarding,” “college applications,” “obligation” and “future driver’s license.” Although I was a bit older than your girls when I started volunteering through my Catholic prep high school, I couldn’t get enough of it. In fact, yours truly picked up a couple of awards for his work at an AIDS hospice and a kindergarten program for homeless children. I was very much dedicated to the work performed at both of my placements, but I also can’t deny another perk of teenaged volunteerism that I experienced that may appeal to the twins: off-campus privileges.


If they continue to seem disinterested and play the “our friends don’t have to do this so why do we?” card, call up or email a few of their friends’ parents and team up with them to see what can be done. Who knows, the twins may have a friend who’s secretly gung-ho about volunteering in the community but is scared to do anything about it because her friends aren’t into it. Based on the their own interests and the needs of the community, the twins (and a handful of friends) could start their very own Do Something Club and be eligible for grants, prizes and other Demi Lovato-approved perks. Or they could, as a group, get involved with an existing local Do Something Club or joining one of Do Something’s (a truly awesome organization, by the way) national campaigns. Youth Service America (YSA) and GenerationOn also provide great resources for teens looking to make a difference.


Finally, if the girls are looking for altruistic twin-based inspiration, they don’t have to look much further than Allison and Jillian Samowitz. At 14, these twin sisters from Golden Beach, Fla., launched Proseed2Green, an environmental organization with the mission to “develop environmental programs with community participation that will have a positive impact, locally and globally, and that are fiscally responsible.” Now at 15, the Samowitz sisters have already hosted an ambitious recycling event in their hometown and have been honored with The Daily Green’s 2011 Heart of Green Local Hero Award.


Let me know how things go with the girls. Did they need that encouraging “push” or were they born to give back?


-- Matt


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