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Community Service Scholarships, Grants, and Other Opportunities

Gifted Resources

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.

Equitable Excellence Scholarship: Every year, students across the country work hard to make a positive and lasting impact in their communities and beyond. And every year, we award $1.8 million in college scholarships to hundreds of these remarkable young people throughout the nation representing all 50 states, Washington DC and Puerto Rico. Students have the opportunity to receive a $2,500, $10,000 or $25,000 scholarship. To recognize the important role their dedicated educators play in guiding these students along their path to success, we also award a $1,000 grant to every Equitable Excellence winner’s high school. The 2021 program opens on September 1st. The application period is until January 28, 2021 or when 10,000 applications have been received. Apply here.

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.

Humanity Rising Movement Scholarship – Humanity Rising brings communities together to inspire and empower students to make a difference through service and recognizes and rewards outstanding service with college scholarships. Service creates empathy, compassion, self-esteem, greater human connection and a shared sense of responsibility for one another. On a quarterly basis, we award Humanity Rising Service Scholarships and other rewards to students who are making a difference in the world through volunteerism or creating their own service project. To qualify, create and upload a 60-second video to share your service story! Once you have a service story to share, create and upload a 60-second video, and share it with us.  This can just be you talking, or you can get creative and share pictures of your service. To check out samples of other students’ videos, visit our Service Story page

Gloria Barron Prize – The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes celebrates inspiring, public-spirited young people from across the U.S. and Canada. Established in 2001 by author T. A. Barron, the Barron Prize annually honors 25 outstanding young leaders ages 8 to 18 who have made a significant positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment. Fifteen top winners each receive $10,000 to support their service work or higher 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 engaged in a volunteer activity that occurred during the 12 months prior to the date of the application. 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. 

Local Honorees receive a Certificate of Achievement from their schools or organization. Those Local Honorees who qualify (26 hours of service for ages 10 and younger, 50 hours for ages 11-15, and 100 hours for older students) also receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award. 

Distinguished Finalists receive an engraved bronze medallion, and other state-level runners-up receive Certificates of Excellence.

State Honorees receive a $1,000 scholarship, an engraved silver medallion, and an invitation to the program’s national recognition events. In the event that circumstances surrounding COVID-19 necessitate canceling the in-person event, a virtual event will be held and no trip to Washington, D.C. would be awarded. 

National Honorees receive an additional $5,000 scholarship, an engraved gold medallion, a trophy for their schools or nominating organizations, and a $5,000 grant from The Prudential Foundation for a nonprofit charitable organization of their choice.

The Purpose Challenge Contest – If you write a college essay based on what you’ve learned from the Purpose Challenge toolkit, you can submit it for the chance to win money for college. Five winners will each receive $5,000, and one winner will receive a grand prize of $25,000.


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 – Each year, through a competitive application and selection process, the Bezos Scholars Program selects a new group of Scholars. Twelve U.S. students and five students from the African Leadership Academy are chosen, along with a supportive educator from each school.

Successful applicants are public high school juniors and a staff person from their school that serves as their educator and participates fully in the program. Successful applicants have a strong drive and commitment to their education and demonstrate maturity, curiosity, grit, and leadership.

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 IndiegogoKhan AcademyIoby and many more are available for enterprising philanthropists to utilize in their fundraising efforts.

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.

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 $29/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.

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 Something.org – 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.

Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) –  The Summer Institute for the Gifted’s three-week programs for gifted and talented students ages 5-17 provide instruction in more than 80 exciting and challenging STEAM, humanities, and fitness courses. Hosted at prestigious campuses nationwide, residential and day programs are available.

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.org – 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.

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.

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.

Cappex – Has a “What Are My Chances” tool, which attempts to calculate the odds that you’ll get into a certain college before you apply.

Chegg.com – Has a “top scholarship picks this week” category, which highlights opportunities you may have otherwise missed.

Fastweb – Search more than 1.5 million scholarships for free.

NIche.com – Neatly organized into categories that make it simple to start finding and applying for scholarships.

Peterson’s – A one-stop scholarship resource with a number of great, free resources.

Unigo.com – Offers both profile-based matching as well as easy-to-browse categories.

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.

Learn and Serve America (PDF)

Further Reading and Research: 

Here are some additional resources that may be helpful.

Books:

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!

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