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At Thanksgiving, it's a good time to reflect on how fortunate many of us are and to think about giving something back to the community. When you volunteer to do community service, you can make a huge difference in the lives of those who need help. There are lots of great ways for teens to volunteer in Western New York.

A new organization in Western New York called UGIVE.org makes it easy for high school students to find volunteer opportunities, and even easier for students and their schools to keep a record of all their volunteer work.

UGIVE.org was created by the United Way in May to make it easy for teens to go online and find volunteer opportunities with the click of a mouse. Every opportunity listed is available to teens, unlike many other organizations' Web sites, where some of the opportunities to volunteer are only available to adults.

The Web site is basically a gigantic clearinghouse for teens looking for community service opportunities. It connects teens to 65 organizations, with more than 80 opportunities available right now. Teens can definitely find something that matches their interests and fits their schedules.

To find out what opportunities are available, go to www.ugive.org/opportunities/ and enter your ZIP code.

To sign up for volunteer work, register at www.ugive.org/students/ and click on the button that says "Student."

After registering, the site does all the record-keeping and provides your school with details of your community service activities: where you worked, how many hours, etc. It also will print out a complete report of all your high school community service to send along with college or scholarship applications, or when applying for a job.

UGIVE.org also makes it easy for schools to organize community service activities. If a teacher, coach, counselor, administrator or anyone associated with a school wants to provide an environment of community service for students, UGIVE.org makes it easy to find volunteer opportunities that are available. It also provides a platform for tracking and reporting student volunteer hours. No more phone calls to service organizations to confirm that students actually volunteered.

Wondering if your school is registered? It is. UGIVE.org has already registered every high school in Western New York.

To contact UGive.org, call 887-2744 or 887-269.

> Teens make a difference

NeXt recently took a look at some of the community service work that teenagers are doing around Western New York:

The Food Bank of Western New York serves the community by acquiring surplus food from numerous sources such as food manufacturers, distributors and retailers. This food is then distributed to more than 100,000 people in need every month.

The main volunteer opportunities for teens at the Food Bank are: food sorting and packaging, general office work and working on special events like food drives and fundraisers.

Volunteer Maya Satterwhite, a freshman at Kenmore West, says what she likes best is "helping to feed families in need. Everyone should volunteer here."

To volunteer at the Food Bank, go to www.foodbankwny.org and click on "Volunteer Opportunities" under the "How You Can Help" tab and fill out the form, or call 852-1305 and ask for Katy Chadwick, the volunteer coordinator.

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The St. Vincent de Paul Society has a number of operations, but the main volunteer opportunities for teens are working in its dining room and discount clothing store. The dining room serves more than 100,000 meals a year, thanks to support from volunteers. The store provides reconditioned clothing and household items at little or no cost to those in need.

At the dining room, volunteers serve guests and clean up. At the store, they keep displays stocked and assist customers in finding merchandise.

Jamie Eichinger, a senior at Kenmore West High School, says she likes volunteering because "I like the interaction with others and helping people. I like to do things to help the community."

Learn more about the St. Vincent DePaul Society at www.svdpwny.org.

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The Ronald McDonald House of Western New York provides a home away from home for families of children receiving treatment at Buffalo area hospitals. The house has served more than 15,000 families since 1983.

The Ronald McDonald House provides a homelike atmosphere for parents and siblings while they stay near their child's hospital. Volunteer opportunities include providing help to the staff in household chores, cooking and also in maintaining the gardens.

"It's a great place for people in need, and I really like helping them," says volunteer Alyssa Palmeri, a senior at Clarence High School.

Joe Green, a junior at Grand Island High School, adds, "Helping families in a difficult situation is a really good thing to do."

Find out more at www.rmhcwny.org. To volunteer, contact Lynn Hughes, manager, at 883-1177.

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Gilda's Club creates a supportive environment for anyone living with cancer, along with their families and friends. The program complements medical care, providing networking and support groups, workshops, education and social activities.

Emma Williams, a senior at Nardin Academy, says, "Volunteering here is a wonderful experience. It's amazing to see how everyone here cares so much for everyone else. Being part of this has really made a difference in my life."

To learn more about Gilda's Club, go to www.gildasclubwny.org. To volunteer at Gilda's Club, call Heidi Billittier at 332-5900, Ext. 212, or e-mail her at hbillittier@gildasclubwny.org.

Now more than ever, many institutions have to help more people with fewer resources to get the job done. By giving them a little, volunteers can make a huge difference in the lives of so many people.

John Tank is a sophomore at Nichols School.