On a Friday morning at the end of June, 31 teens from New Jersey stepped off a bus in front of Raleigh City Farm. They had just begun a six-and-a-half-week trek across the United States.
Raleigh was just their second stop on a trip with 26 destinations! The trip would take them to every region of the US—to cities like Chicago and Los Angeles and to the vast wilderness of Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.
What brought these teens from New Jersey to an urban farm in Raleigh?
They were taking part in the Great American road trip, but with a twist. The trip’s leader, Daniel Kaplan of USY on Wheels, explained that the teens were on a journey “mainly focused on leadership and social action.” Whether it involved working on a farm in Raleigh, serving food to the homeless in Chicago, or singing songs at a nursing home, these teens would certainly be leaving a trail of “good” behind them.
Here at Activate Good, this journey piqued our interest. It was fitting that these traveling teens would come to us to find a volunteer opportunity. Their journey echoed the road trip of Activate Good founder, Amber Smith, who volunteered across the country on her own two-and-a-half-month trek. Also fitting, the teens arrived just as the first week of our Teen Leadership & Service Summer Program was wrapping up.
That morning on the farm the NJ teens wielded pickaxes to break ground for new plantings and harvested blackberries. They also had a chance to learn about the farm and its practices. Daniel said, “The kids got really into it. It was absolutely wonderful to learn more about sustainable farming.”
Although the teens spent just three hours on the farm, as they traveled the hours would add up to something different—a changing perspective.
This journey reminds us why volunteering while traveling can be so powerful. Amber said of her own journey, “Rather than simply volunteering at one location or another, I absorbed the why and how at different stops. That enriched the service and made me a better advocate for each cause as we moved to our next location.”
With high school winding down and college drawing closer, what better way for teens to get a perspective on the wider human community than to volunteer.
No matter your age, volunteering while traveling has benefits for everyone. You may find a cause to get passionate about, an idea for a business, a way to expand your view of your fellow Americans, or get the chance to have a great conversation with someone you would never have met otherwise.
As Amber put it, “I became very open to new experiences and meeting all sorts of people. I was able to listen and learn a lot.”
She learned that “people and communities, at their core, are the same.”
When these teens finally arrived home, they had certainly changed and brought a little bit of every place where they’d volunteered home with them. Volunteering while traveling, whether you’re young or old, is a perfect way to add a twist to the American road trip.