This past month, I've had the pleasure of speaking with Emi Rohn of TeensVolunteer, a website that lists volunteering opportunities for teens in the San Francisco Bay Area (and soon, throughout all of California). She discusses her perseverance in building her website and reaching out to volunteering opportunities, and gives advice for future youth-led organizers.
I'm so excited to be speaking with you and to learn more about your organization! From what I understand, TeensVolunteer helps teenagers in California find volunteer opportunities close to home. This is such an amazing initiative! Can you tell us what inspired you to create this site, and how you got started?
I was inspired to start TeensVolunteer.org after struggling to find local volunteer opportunities as a freshman in high school. I knew that local organizations were looking for volunteers, but I realized that there wasn’t a great resource for teens to get connected with these organizations.
In May 2018, I started building TeensVolunteer.org with WordPress, a template based website designer, and I spent almost a year designing the site before it was fully launched. After that, I poured hours into marketing the site, contacting hundreds of local organizations to ask if they’d be willing to post on my site. Eventually, my hard work paid off, and the site began to gain some traction.
Wow Emi, thats such an amazing origin story! And you perservered with the site for a year before launching it? That's so amazing. Can you tell us a bit more about the hurdles you've faced in designing the site, and how you've overcome them? And have you gotten any outside help along the way?
Designing the site for the first year was definitely a challenge. I didn't have much experience designing websites in the past, so I was constantly changing the layout, colors, etc. I took inspiration from other websites I admired, and eventually, I settled on what I have today.
As for outside help, the website was almost entirely built by me. I received some assistance with custom WordPress code because it was outside of my skill set, but other than that, I created the rest of the site.
And how about the development of your organization after your website's creation? Did you face any challenges when it came to reaching out to volunteer opportunities? How did you promote your site? Was there any outside help at this stage?
Once I finished designing the website, I poured hours into finding volunteer opportunities. I made a spreadsheet with hundreds of Bay Area organizations and individually emailed or called each one, asking them to post on my website. Although I didn't receive many responses at first, I kept contacting people until I was able to build up hundreds of opportunities on the site.
As for promoting the website, I took on a similar strategy. I knew that the easiest way to reach thousands of teenagers would be through their schools, so I've contacted hundreds of high schools asked each one to promote my website to their students. Although only a fraction of the schools respond, it's been a great way to drive traffic to the site. I've also marketed TeensVolunteer through Instagram advertising, which has been successful in connecting teens to our site.
However, I can't take credit for all of the work that goes into posting opportunities and marketing the website. I've also had lots of help from my team, who works tirelessly every week to make the website the best that it can be. In July 2020, welcomed 8 additions to the team, and together, we've been able to increase our numbers dramatically and connect even more teens to volunteering.
That's such an amazing story, Emi! I'm particularly inspired by your perseverance. Can you tell us about some of your hopes for the future? Goals can be as large or small as one can imagine - whether they be making your effort national (or international), or expanding your team farther. What do you envision for TeensVolunteer's future?
In the future, I hope that TeensVolunteer will be able to connect thousands more teens with volunteering. Since we've recently expanded from serving the SF Bay Area to all of California, we are working to be as successful as possible in CA before bringing the site to other regions elsewhere. In a few months, we will be starting a chapter system, where students can start a TeensVolunteer group anywhere in the world, to expand our site even more. Our ultimate goal is to get as many teens as possible involved in volunteer work to benefit their communities.
Those sound like fantastic goals, and with the progress you've made so far, there's no doubt that you can accomplish them. As a closing out question: what advice would you give to other youth pursuing a passion project? Whether it be them trying to get started, or trying to persevere, do you have any words of wisdom?
My advice would be to not let any challenges deter you from continuing your project. In my case, TeensVolunteer received almost no site traffic for two years. Although I felt discouraged, I continued to work tirelessly on the website, and eventually, it got to where it is today. I know that many other students are going through similar struggles with their organizations, and I advise them to keep pushing forward because success is just around the corner!
Connect with TeensVolunteer!