Community Service Scholarships, Grants and Other Opportunities
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

A listing of community service scholarships, grants and other opportunities for young people interested in making a difference.

Young people everywhere are working hard to effect positive change in the world. Gifted young people are no exception, many of whom have made positive contributions to their communities before graduating from high school. Besides the intentional benefits of doing something that is personally fulfilling and helping those less fortunate, there are many unintended benefits of participating in such activities. These latent benefits include increasing the chances of admission to top-tier colleges, an abundance of scholarships and grants to pay for those colleges, boosting your resume and other exciting opportunities for funding, jobs, and even world travel. According to Miriam Weinstein, author of Making a Difference: Scholarships for a Better World, “Your background of consistent community service or activism will make you extra attractive to most colleges and graduate schools.” Additionally, the experience and knowledge gained through volunteering and participation in other service-oriented programs will better prepare young people with the skills needed for success in the job market after graduation. Therefore, one need not be the high school valedictorian or varsity standout to be the recipient of scholarship money and extracurricular opportunities. Contrary to conventional thinking, community service experience can be just as valuable an asset for the college applicant as the more traditional avenues of sport and academics.

This compilation of resources has been inspired by the incredible projects being undertaken by Davidson Young Scholars, through the Young Scholars Ambassador Program. These remarkable young people are working on projects that go beyond their own self-interests to make the world a better place for everyone. Through social, environmental and humanitarian efforts, Young Scholars are creating and implementing programs that will inevitably have a global impact. Designed as a place to locate scholarships, grants, jobs, careers and other opportunities for young people working to make a positive difference, this collection provides “a place to start” for the aspiring philanthropist.

Scholarships: Community service scholarships are lucrative and are often thought of as very prestigious by college admissions officers. Whether you’ve been active as a volunteer, or as an entrepreneur starting a non-profit -or anything in between- helping others can be time consuming and expensive in addition to being rewarding. Scholarships for those active in community service ventures of all kinds are available through public and private sources as well as directly through college and university offices of financial aid and scholarships.

    AXA Achievement Scholarship - Each year, fifty-two winners (one from each state, the District of Colombia and Puerto Rico) are selected by Scholarship America to receive one-time scholarship awards of $10,000 each. From that pool of 52 state winners, ten are selected as national winners and earn an additional one-time scholarship of $15,000 and a new computer for school. AXA Achievers are ambitious, driven, goal-oriented and respectful of self, family and community

    Brower Youth Awards - An annual national award recognizing six young people for their outstanding activism and achievements in the fields of environmental and social justice advocacy. The winners of the award receive a $3,000 cash prize, a trip to California for the award ceremony and wilderness camping trip, and ongoing access to resources and opportunities to further their work at Earth Island Institute. Young activist leaders ages 13 to 22 living in North America are eligible to apply.

    Discus Awards - The Discus Awards seek to recognize students who excel in more ways than one, both in and outside the classroom. If you march to the beat of your own drum, while wearing many hats, they want to hear from you. The Discus Awards is the only high school awards program that shows colleges that you have the passion and complexity to make your mark in the real world, not just on paper. Students may nominate themselves or be nominated by teachers, parents, counselors or friends for this national recognition program for all-around high school students. The Discus Awards offers students access to a unique portfolio of college scholarships in a variety of areas.

    Gloria Barron Prize - Each year, the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes honors 25 outstanding young leaders who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. Winners have focused on helping their communities and fellow beings and on protecting the health and sustainability of the environment. Like the woman for whom the prize was named—Gloria Barron—these young people demonstrate the power of one person to make a difference to the world. Winners each receive $2,500 to be applied to their higher education or to their service project.
      Montage Memory Makers Scholarship - A scholarship for teens ages 13 to 17 years old who provide creative solutions to community needs. This scholarship is awarded to five students with a $10,000 scholarship towards their education.

      Points of Light Foundation - Award Programs Related to Youth Service - A Comprehensive Resource Packet which lists recognition and award programs available to young people and adults involved in the service sector. The programs are categorized by eligibility/target audience, and contacts are included whenever possible. However, this guide is from 2003, so it is advisable to contact the award programs directly for more current details.

      Prudential Spirit of Community Awards - Recognizes students in grades 5–12 who have demonstrated exemplary community service. The program was created in 1995 and is sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Over the past 12 years, the program has honored more than 75,000 young volunteers at the local, state and national levels.

      Check with your college or university - Most colleges and universities offer scholarships and other opportunities for students involved in civic, environmental, leadership and community service activities. Be sure to inquire within your school’s office of financial aid and scholarships for such opportunities.

    Non-scholarship Funding: Taking a community service project or non-profit organization to the “next level” usually takes more than just hard work; it takes money too! Here are just a few of the many organizations that offer seed money, awards, stipends and grant funding for all types of non-profit programs and ideas.

      Bezos Scholars Program - Every spring, 30 top high school students and exceptional educators from across the U.S. and Africa are selected to participate in this year-long leadership development program. The program kicks off with an all-expenses-paid scholarship to attend the acclaimed Aspen Ideas Festival (AIF), a remarkable gathering of thinkers and change agents from around the world. Throughout the academic year, Scholars participate in virtual Bezos Scholars Program trainings and are invited to apply for a $1,000 seed grant to design and implement their Local Ideas Festival.
      Corporation for National and Community Service - Provides grants to national and local nonprofits, schools, government agencies, faith-based and other organizations committed to strengthening their communities through volunteering. On this website you will also find many resources, publications and links to information that may be of use to you in growing your venture.

      Crowd funding – Crowd funding is an increasingly popular way to raise money for community service ventures. Online crowd funding (also called crowd sourcing) platforms such as Indiegogo, Kickstarter, Ioby and many more are available for enterprising philanthropists to utilize in their fundraising efforts.
      Disney Friends for Change U.S. Grants – This grant offers young change-makers an opportunity to receive a $500 grant to help make a lasting, positive change in the world. Applicants leading high-impact and/or large-scale projects may also request an additional $500 grant (up to $1,000, total) to support their work. Grants support projects taking place on or around Global Youth Service Day, April 11-13, 2014. 

      Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Initiative – The InvenTeam initiative offers an unparalleled opportunity for high school students to cultivate their creativity and experience invention. InvenTeams are teams of high school students, teachers, and mentors that receive grants up to $10,000 each to invent technological solutions to real-world problems. Each InvenTeam chooses its own problem to solve. InvenTeam students rely on inquiry and hands-on problem solving as they apply lessons from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to develop invention prototypes. Science, math and technology educators at high schools and nonprofit educational organizations are eligible to apply.
      Opal Apple Youth Make a Difference Initiative Grants – This initiative will award $75,000 in funding to youth-based initiatives serving their communities in the U.S. and Canada, where youth, ages 6 - 25, take leadership roles in addressing one or more of the issues of food security, nutrition, agriculture, or food politics and education. Grants will be awarded in the range of $5,000 - $20,000.

      Society for Nonprofit Organizations - Researched by a nonprofit with over 20 years experience, Funding Alert is the leading e-newsletter for current grant and funding opportunities. For $39/year, you'll receive a monthly email with an extensive list of current funding opportunities - conveniently organized by category.

      The Awesome Foundation - The Awesome Foundation distributes a series of monthly $1,000 grants to projects and their creators. The money is pooled together from the coffers of ten or so self-organizing “micro-trustees” and given upfront in cash, check, or gold doubloons. The chapters are autonomous and organized by the trustees around geographic areas or topics of interest. The Foundation provides these grants with no strings attached and claims no ownership over the projects it supports. It is, in the words of one of our trustees, a micro-genius grant for flashes of micro-brilliance. Projects have included efforts in a wide range of areas including technology, arts, social good, and beyond.

      True Hero - True Hero, Inc., a non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity, grants cash awards to high school, college and qualified non-profit community youth organizations and projects that sponsor service trips and volunteer activities for students. Some eligibility requirements must be met, so be sure to check to see if your project may be eligible for the competition.

      Youth Service America’s Awards and Grants - Constantly updated with current grant opportunities and applications, this page also allows you to sign up for grant announcements to be emailed directly to you as they become available.

      Youth Venture (Facebook Page) - Inspires and invests in teams of young people to design and launch their own lasting social ventures, enabling them to have the transformative experience of leading positive social change. “Venturers” start businesses, civil society organizations and informal programs that address all kinds of social issues, including poverty, health, the elderly, the environment, education, diversity issues, and the arts. Youth Venture helps young people through this process of designing and launching their ventures, providing guidance, how-to’s, seed money and a process for designing and pitching a venture idea.

    Other Programs: Scholarships are not the only opportunities available to young people involved in community service activities. For those interested in exploring other options such as jobs, internships summer programs and travel, here are a few ideas.

      Allen’s Guide to Leadership and Community Service Programs for Students - This directory of leadership and community service programs for students offers links to more than 20 summer camps, immersion programs, travel opportunities and study abroad programs.

      Americorps City Year Program - City Year was founded in 1988 by Michael Brown and Alan Khazei, then-roommates at Harvard Law School, who felt strongly that young people in service could be a powerful resource for addressing our nation's most pressing issues. Over the years, City Year has been built on the belief that one person can make a difference, and with the vision that one day service will be a common expectation - and a real opportunity - for citizens all around the world. Young Scholar Ambassadors may be interested in the Youth Leadership Corps or Youth Service Corps.

      Break Away - Creating Leaders and Active Citizens; Break Away's mission is to train, assist, and connect campuses and communities in promoting quality alternative break programs that inspire lifelong active citizenship. Break Away's vision is a society of active citizens: people who value the community as a priority when making life decisions. As part of a quality Break Away experience, participants will become more educated and experienced in all sides of a social issue. Upon return, they will be empowered to make more informed decisions and take meaningful action that supports a greater good. They will become contributing members of society and will weigh in on issues that impact their communities.

      Do – Encourages students to take action on local and global levels and provides an online community of active young people who are doing great things. This site also provides a search for local volunteer opportunities by zip code, grant opportunities and much more.

      Center for Talented Youth Civic Leadership Institute - CTY Civic Leadership Institute students, through an introductory course in Civic Engagement & Contemporary Social Issues, explore the complex challenges that affect our communities today, and are introduced to tools and strategies for community development and positive social change. This innovative service-learning program integrates engaging and interactive academic work with meaningful field experiences. Several times each week, during class time, students travel to dynamic urban neighborhoods to engage in hands-on service projects with respected local community organizations.

      EPA’s Community Service Projects for Teachers - Community service projects allow students to apply the lessons learned in the classroom to real-life situations and experiences. At this website, you will find ideas for community service projects as well as a listing of events in your local area.

      Global Volunteers - A private, non-profit, non-sectarian, non-governmental organization engages short-term volunteers on micro-economic and human development programs in close partnership with local people worldwide. Working at the invitation and under the direction of local leaders, volunteers help create a foundation for world peace through mutual international understanding. Our purpose is to maintain a genuine, sustained service partnership with the host community and provide volunteers a genuine opportunity to serve. - Idealist is a project of Action Without Borders, a nonprofit organization founded in 1995 with offices in the United States and Argentina. Idealist is an interactive site where people and organizations can exchange resources and ideas, locate opportunities and supporters, and take steps toward building a better world.

      Jefferson Award Youth Initiatives - With three coordinated youth service initiatives, the Jefferson Awards programs provide support, recognition and mentorship to youth leaders who are making a difference in their community. The Students in Action, Ways to Help, and GLOBECHANGERS programs provide something for everyone to be part of, no matter how ambitious your service activities might be.

      National Conference on Volunteering and Service - The world's largest annual gathering of volunteer and service leaders. Organized by the Points of Light & Hands On Network and the Corporation for National and Community Service, this conference offers fresh ideas and practical tools to strengthen your volunteer and service program. It's a great place to network with other professionals in the volunteer field – nonprofits and businesses; academic and faith-based organizations; funders and government agencies. You'll be inspired, connected, informed and energized – ready to mobilize more volunteers and get more things done. Dates and locations vary by year so be sure to check the website for upcoming conference information.

      National Youth Leadership Council - Service-learning is more than an educational theory and philosophy. It's active learning that continually responds to new needs. NYLC keeps up with these changing needs by getting its hands dirty in the field — developing infrastructures, program models, public policies, best practices, tools, and leadership.

      Northwestern University: Center for Talent Development’s Civic Education Project - The Civic Education Project combines hands-on education and community service to promote civic responsibility among young people. Various programs are available to students in grades 7 through 12.

      People To People - People to People programs provide international travel and educational experiences for students, athletes and professional adults. The Student Ambassador and Leadership programs provide international educational opportunities for elementary, junior high, and high school students. Hands-on cultural contact; behind-the-scenes access to fascinating people and places; and amazing outdoor adventures ensure that students will enjoy the experience of a lifetime. Students can be nominated for the program or request an application. Three letters of recommendation are required.

      The Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy - Conducts and disseminates research on the role and impact of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy. The Center's mission is to promote understanding of civil society and improve nonprofit sector performance through rigorous research, clear analysis and informed policy.

      Youth Service America - (YSA) Is a resource center that partners with thousands of organizations committed to increasing the quality and quantity of volunteer opportunities for young people, ages 5-25, to serve locally, nationally, and globally. Founded in 1986, YSA’s mission is to expand the impact of the youth service movement with communities, schools, corporations, and governments. YSA also provides information and applications for incentives such as grants, awards and stipends. YSA envisions a global culture of engaged youth who are committed to a lifetime of service, learning, leadership and achievement.

    Scholarship Search Engines: Regardless of your extracurricular interests and activities, there are many free search engines available that match students with scholarship opportunities according to various characteristics.

      Fastweb - Search over 1.3 million scholarships for free. - Search over 1.7 million scholarships worth over 7 billion dollars.

    Research and Resources Educators: For teachers passionate about community service, there is no shortage of information and organizations with which to become involved. Here are a few resources teachers may find helpful when incorporating service learning into the classroom.

    Further Reading and Research: Here are some additional resources that may be helpful.


    Environmental Careers Organization (1998). The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers in the 21st Century. Island Press.

    Erlbach, A (1998). The Kid’s Volunteering Book. Lerner Publications. Minneapolis, MN.

    Fasulo, Mike (2001). Careers for Environmental Types and Others Who Respect the Earth. McGraw Hill.

    Kenny, Maureen E. & Gallagher Laura A. (2003). Teenagers and Community Service: A Guide to the Issues. Praeger Publishers.

    Kaplan, Ben (2002). How to go to College Almost for Free. Harper Collins.

    Lewis, Barbara A. (1998). The Kids Guide to Social Action. Free Spirit Publishing. Minneapolis, MN

    Weinstein, Miriam (2003) Making a Difference: Scholarships for a Better World. Sageworks Press.

    Weinstein, Miriam. Making a Difference: College and Graduate Guide 9th edition. Sageworks Press.

    Conclusion: Young people who are actively involved in community service, environmental, humanitarian and philanthropic ventures have a vast pool of resources from which to draw for unique experiences. In addition to the resources listed here, many corporations and financial institutions offer scholarship money for those participating in conservation, leadership and community organizing activities. Whether you’re looking for money for college or a private venture, travel, internships or a career path, the opportunities and resources are all out there, now go out and get them!

    If you know of any additional resources that could be added to this list, please suggest a resource here. Disclaimer: The Davidson Institute for Talent Development does not specifically endorse any of the products or websites listed.

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