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YARMOUTH — With a new website designed to simplify the process of volunteering, two Yarmouth High School students hope they can help other teens feel empowered to make a difference in their community.
Sophomores Parker Harnett and Zoe Siegel launched HowToHelpInMaine.org, with the goal of making it easier for their fellow students to connect with volunteer opportunities.
“We simply want to help Maine make use of a very underutilized resource – students,” the girls say on the website. “We believe in taking action … about some of the most pressing issues facing Maine today.”
Harnett and Siegel say their website is a one-stop resource where teens can discover places to donate their time, goods or money.
The girls said they started the site because they realized that they had a lot of friends who wanted to volunteer, but didn’t know how to get started.
“(We) wanted to create an engaging space where students can learn about the benefits of volunteering and then link to charities which reflect their specific interests,” Harnett and Siegel say on the site.
The girls also want to encourage other students “to step out of their comfort zone and help out whenever and however possible.”
The list of organizations on the website currently ranges from Yarmouth Cares About Neighbors, to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southern Maine in Portland, to Camp Sunshine in Casco, to Special Olympics Maine in South Portland.
Harnett has spent the past year or so volunteering at Midcoast Humane, an animal shelter in Brunswick, and is also working with a local group interested in banning plastic bags in Yarmouth.
Siegel has been active with the Boys & Girls Clubs by creating a writing program she dubbed Creative Corner at the Sagamore Village clubhouse in Portland.
She said it was Harnett’s idea to put together a website.
“Parker had to search all over the web to find an organization that seemed to fit,” Siegel said. “We talked about how, for about a year, we had both been very interested in volunteering but didn’t know how to take the next step.”
“Growing up today, it can be hard to find one’s own voice,” she added. “Even though the problems of our state, country, and world might seem daunting, it’s important for youth to lead a new generation of problem-solvers and thinkers.”
While Harnett decided to start out by spending her free time with animals, her goal is to eventually work directly with people in need. “I really think that issues like food insecurity and homelessness can be solved if everyone, especially students, put time in to help others,” she said.
Siegal said what she most enjoyed about starting the writing program at the Boys & Girls Club was “even though it can be hard to talk about our lives, writing is a great way to share and develop a sense of community.”
Their key goal with the website is to help students “find an organization that is a fit for them. We want them to feel like they have found a place that they care about and fits their requirements,” Harnett said.
Additionally, she said, “we want youth to get excited about volunteering (and understand that) volunteering can be both a rewarding and fun experience.” But it’s equally important “to us that students leave our website eager to make change in our state.”
Yarmouth High School sophomores Parker Harnett, left, and Zoe Siegel created a website to more easily connect teen volunteers with organizations around Maine that need help.