For just about every teen on Earth, the first half of 2020 has not gone as anticipated. High school students everywhere are grieving the loss of proms, graduation ceremonies, and everyday joys that may have previously been taken for granted. And of course, young people “only” dealing with losses of that nature are, in a relative sense, the “lucky” ones. Countless others are mourning the death of a loved one due to COVID-19 or having to shoulder the stress of one or both parents losing their jobs.

And yet, sometimes the ideal way to distract yourself from your own struggles is to find a selfless pursuit. As Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Of course, this coronavirus pandemic, insidious and suffocating as it has been, greatly limits the ways in which you can engage in charitable endeavors. Given the challenging realities of social distancing and various degrees of quarantine, the best way to feel useful and make a contribution to your local (or global) community is to volunteer online. What follows are five ways you can be of service from the safety of your own home.

1) Provide Virtual COVID-19 Assistance

While frontline heathcare workers bravely staff hospitals and nursing homes and essential workers take on daily risks to keep our grocery stores and delivery services running, there are also behind-the-scenes ways to make a contribution at a time of so much sacrifice. Something as simple as becoming a Digital Advocate for the Red Cross can allow teens to make an impact on the crisis. This can involve actions like simply sharing Red Cross content across social media platforms or organizing an online fundraiser. Points of Light is a group that engages 5 million volunteers per year across 37 countries. They can connect you to a host of pandemic-oriented causes including email marketing for COVID-19 charities, writing letters to healthcare workers, or facilitating food drives for needy families in your area. If you are over the age of 18, you may also be interested in becoming a Crisis Counselor who can gain the training necessary to help support those going through a variety of life challenges, including those related directly or indirectly to the coronavirus.

2) Tutor Students Online

Low-income and minority students have incurred great educational losses during the pandemic, as technological barriers and under-resourced urban schools have only increased an already tragic achievement gap. Teensgive.org allows individuals in 9th-12th grade a bevy of opportunities to tutor peers online. The application process has a fast turnaround time, and you can be helping a child in need within a week of submission. Schoolonwheels.org allows students aged 16-18 to provide tutoring services to peers through virtual means. Those aged 12-15 can also volunteer, but must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Learntobe.org is another option for connecting tutors and in-need students on a virtual platform.

3) Become a Translator  

If you happen to be bilingual, there are plenty of ways you can contribute to a great cause right from your laptop. The United Nations Volunteers organization lists many opportunities for those proficient in two or more languages to make an impact. For example, UN-Habitat needs volunteers to help translate a National Housing Project for Cabo Verde from Portuguese to English. UNICEF presently needs 5 COVID-19-related documents translated from English to French. The UN also needs Chinese reports on pandemic volunteer efforts translated into English. You could also consider joining the army of TED Talk translators who work on subtitling these inspirational videos so that they be enjoyed by audiences around the globe. A number of fantastic opportunities can also be accessed through Translators Without Borders.

4) Archive Historical Documents  

Fans of history may be interested in becoming citizen archivists for a non-profit organization such as the National Archives in Washington, D.C. Would you enjoy transcribing speeches made by Franklin Roosevelt, case histories made by the Tennessee Valley Authority during the Great Depression, or cataloguing Purple Hearts awarded between 1942-1963? All of these tasks are awaiting the help of virtual volunteers right now. The Smithsonian also engages citizen scholars in tasks such as transcribing diaries of prominent Americans or joining the Wikipedia Volunteer Program’s efforts to strengthen the website’s offerings on Smithsonian-relevant content.

5) Volunteer for a Political Campaign

Surveys indicate that more than one-quarter of young people are interested in volunteering as part of a political campaign. With 2020 being an election year, there are countless local, state, and national races already well underway. Given the uncertainty of in-person campaigning and even in-person voting, there is a more of a need than ever before for virtual volunteers. If politics are of interest, or even championing a particular cause is more up your alley, you should absolutely consider civic engagement as an activity. You can always contact the political campaign of your choice via email, phone, or social media, but there are also a number of a quality resources for those who don’t quite know where to start. One such site is YSA.org which offers 10 resources to help teens get involved in the 2020 election while staying safe and heathy.

College Transitions’ Final Thoughts

For all Americans, including teenagers, the coronavirus has taken a toll on our collective mental health. Young people are reporting anxiety, depression, loneliness, and feelings of isolation in record numbers and—as a double whammy—positive therapeutic outlets are more challenging to access than ever before. Becoming a virtual volunteer may not be the exact summer 2020 that you were dreaming about, but it will almost certainly help return some sense of agency and purpose amidst this backdrop of uncertainty and tragedy. All we can encourage our teenage children to do right now is to follow the words of Teddy Roosevelt to “Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are.” Online volunteer work may prove to be exactly that.