While you join the hundreds of thousands of kids around the country who are heading Back to School, why not stand out — and head back to service?

Sure, the new school year is a great time to test a new hairstyle, new kicks, try out for the school play or a sports team. And maybe you’ll finally get that date with the boy or girl you’ve been crushing on. But the new school year is also a great time to give back to your community and the planet by picking an afterschool volunteer project to stick with throughout the school year.

Just a few hours a week can make a tremendous difference to people, animals and the environment – all of which really need it! AND, you’re guaranteed to meet new and interesting people, feel great, and learn something that doesn’t come from a textbook. Not to mention that you can also get some awesome experience that impresses universities and potential employers.

Interested? Great. Here’s how you can get started!

Find your Passion!

Volunteering is a big deal! You’ll have to ask yourself some questions about what you want to do. What do you really care about? A few ideas:

  • Help stock a food pantry every week
  • Distribute blankets and clothing at a shelter
  • Tutor fellow students or those at neighboring schools
  • Help clean up a city park or tend a community garden
  • Staff the intake counter at a local clinic every month
  • Help feed and clean the pets at an animal shelter

There really are countless ways you can serve. Check out DoSomething.org and GenerationOn.org for more ideas and for tips on how to be a truly great volunteer.

Plan, commit and coordinate!

Make sure you have the time to volunteer. Can you commit to getting to a place on time and on a regular basis? Do you have a lift?

Do your homework!

Service is important, but make sure you still have time to get your homework done! Not to mention time for after-school activities and friends.

Keep a journal.

Grab a notebook, start a blog, and tell us about your Back to Service activities and thoughts.

Tell the President!

Beyond feeling great about how you’ve helped make the world a better place, once you’ve chosen a project, visit MyImpact.org to track your volunteer hours. Let us know when you’ve logged over 100 hours and we’ll certify you for a Presidential Service Award. Once verified, you’ll get an award and a congratulatory letter from President Obama that’ll look mighty sweet hanging on your dorm or bedroom wall!

Good luck this year! Study hard and serve harder!