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Student behind a local volunteer website is leaving town, but her site is here to stay

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 29, 2010 - This is just the time of year when teenagers who have put off thinking about summer plans start making them.

In a typical summer, a paid job would be easy enough to find. But this isn’t a typical summer, what with the job market tough for everyone, let alone a young person without a stacked resume.

That means more students are going the unpaid route. They are turning to sites like St. Louis Volunteen, a clearinghouse of volunteer information for teenagers who are looking to fulfill school requirements or get involved on their own.

Simone Bernstein, the creator of St. Louis Volunteen, said she’s seeing increasing interest in the listings posted on her site.

"A lot of students are going to these organizations asking for longer volunteer positions every day,” Bernstein said. “A lot of parents are having trouble figuring out what their kids are going to do this summer. It’s hard to get a job, but camp isn’t the right answer either. A volunteer position gives students structure and gives them skills for later in life.”

Bernstein contacts a range of organizations, from hospitals to museums, to inquire about volunteer positions for students from the ages of 12 to 17. She writes descriptions of the positions and includes the age limitations (if any) and contact information. Roughly 50 groups post their long-term volunteer opportunities on the site, and short-term positions are posted on a Twitter page.

The site receives about 500 unique visitors weekly, Bernstein said. Schools across the area have included a link to St. Louis Volunteen on their community service pages.

Bernstein is a semifinalist in the Build-A-Bear Workshop Huggable Heroes program, which recognizes young people who help promote community service. She’s one of 75 students (out of 1,000 nominated) in the United States and Canada to make it to the semifinal round.

Ultimately, 10 winners will be selected and receive a $7,500 educational scholarship and $2,500 from the Build-A-Bear Workshop Foundation to be donated to the nonprofit of their choice.

Winners will be notified in mid-June. Bernstein said if she’s selected the money would go to an organization where she has volunteered, the St. Louis Crisis Nursery, a 24-hour crisis shelter for kids.

Bernstein, 18, would use the scholarship money to help pay for an eight-year BS/MD program she’s starting this fall at St. Bonaventure University in New York state. (For the medical school portion she will attend George Washington University.)

This summer, Bernstein is taking part in a Bank of America student leadership program. She’ll be doing an eight-week internship at a yet-to-be-determined area nonprofit.

Before that, Bernstein is graduating May 23 from Clayton High School.

She’s hoping to find younger students from her school or others in St. Louis to help carry on St. Louis Volunteen. And while she admits it’ll be more challenging next year to stay on top of calling organizations in St. Louis and making sure everything on the site is current, Bernstein said she plans to stay heavily involved from New York.

“All I need is a cell phone and a computer,” she said.

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