Cleaning kennels, washing toys and sanitizing cages may not sound like a rewarding way to spend the weekend, but for many students, volunteering at an animal shelter is an ideal way to earn service hours. With 75 hours required for graduation, students are in search of limited service opportunities.
The Atlanta Humane Society is an organization where adoption and care services are available for animals. It provides several service opportunities but requires volunteers to be at least 18 years old. With the surplus of high school volunteers unable to assist and the constant movement of staff, AHS has experienced a volunteer shortage.
“It’s hard to keep people here consistently,” volunteer manager of AHS Elexis Connally said. “We have a lot of young people who come and go; sometimes, we will be overstaffed, and sometimes, we need more people. It really depends on the day.”
Usually, volunteers would clean, fold laundry and perform small tasks to keep the shelter sanitized and running properly. With less support, current employees are overwhelmed and must multi-task.
“Volunteers can have a lot to do all the time,” Connally said. “Things can get chaotic, it would always be helpful to have some more people around.”
With a flexible schedule and engaging activities, students are drawn to the AHS shelter.
“I went to the humane society to go look at dogs for fun, but after looking around, I fell in love with the idea of volunteering there,” fifteen year-old sophomore Ryan Carter said. “I don’t get how I can work in the service industry and not go and volunteer places, especially when they are in need of assistance. I know plenty of people who would want to volunteer there.”
For students, the age restriction of 18 appears irrational, but AHS has reason to enforce the requirement.
“It is a liability issue; we need volunteers to be adults, so that they are legally independent when it comes to injuries or complications,” Connally said. “This work can be dangerous, and we need to make sure that our volunteers know what they are getting into.”
Many students booked orientations at the shelter only to discover they were too young. A lack of communication between organizations and student volunteers has resulted in confusion concerning who is allowed to help and where more assistance is needed.
“[When] I applied to volunteer at the Atlanta Humane Society off of Howell Mill, I thought it was perfect,” junior Mia Otoski said. “After going to the orientation, I ended up receiving an email from the coordinator saying that we had to be 18 to volunteer. It was disappointing because they didn’t really make it clear beforehand.”
While Midtown provides service opportunities through programs such as Beta Club and 21st Century leaders, many students said that isn’t enough.
“If you are not a part of one of these clubs, it is very hard to find opportunities, and even when you are in them, the hours you receive are not a lot,” Otoski said. “The resources kids have at home that they could bring to school, like cans, shirts or whatever else is limited. It isn’t enough to make up those 75 hours.”
A lack of staff conflicting with a surplus of students in search of volunteering opportunities creates a unique struggle. With the age restriction in place, a gap remains between supply and demand.
“I understand why you have to be an adult, it is just so unbelievably frustrating that we can’t help animals in need,” Carter said.