Graduation is a time to celebrate your accomplishments, but it’s also a time for your grad to give thanks to the school and community that helped her succeed. Some schools have fundraising and volunteer programs that help grads reciprocate all that their high school experience has offered them. If your high school doesn’t have such a program, or if you’re looking for different ideas, here are some other great ways to give back before going forward.

Drive it forward

Most schools are feeling the impact of the economic recession—unfortunately, so too are would-be financial contributors to those schools. Though cash donations and tax credits for many school activities are down, most people would still like to find a way to contribute to their local schools. Book or equipment drives are a great solution. Have your child work in tandem with his school librarian to sponsor a book drive, or talk to a favorite coach about a sports equipment drive. Students at Ipswich High School in Massachusetts did just that, netting rackets, bats, balls, cleats and other gently used equipment for underprivileged children in their area.

Even if students cannot mount a full-scale drive to benefit their school or community, encourage them to consider individually donating a favorite book to the school library, for example. The Pay It Forward Foundation suggests a variation on the book drive that keeps paying off for the school long after participating students have left: “The students select 20 staff and 20 other students to give new books to, anonymously. Each book will have a note of inspiration or appreciation in it and will ask the recipient to do 2 acts of kindness to 2 other people and will include the same kind of note, asking that it be ‘paid forward’.” In this way the book drive becomes not only about much-needed supplies, but fostering goodwill.  

Call it forward

What teenager can imagine life without a cell phone? Tech-savvy teens may go through as many as one or two phones a year. So what to do with your teen’s old phone? has a solution: don’t discard, donate! The organization supports a broad range of charitable causes, ranging from treating malnourished children to providing playground equipment for local schools. They also send free 911 emergency phones to senior citizens, abuse victims living in shelters, or residents of underprivileged communities without land lines.

Donating a used cell phone instead of throwing it away reduces the amount of toxic chemicals released into the environment—what better way to apply four years of high school science? Another possibility for a cell phone drive is to send grads into the community to collect used phones and then sell them to corporations like PaceButler, which offers a cell phone drive collection kit and instructions on its website. The money raised can then be donated back to the school.

Glam it forward

Prom is an adolescent rite of passage, but one that many students from low-income families may find increasingly difficult to afford. Recent news reports show that kids may spend over $1000 on a dress or tux, dinner, transportation, flowers and pictures—well beyond the means of many solidly middle class families, let alone those of limited means. Encourage your graduating senior to donate her gently used prom dresses and shoes to someone in need., a part of Hearst Teen Network, has a dress drive guide available for download on its website for civic-minded girls: “[O]nce you've had your dream night, you can give another girl hers!”

The program is flourishing and creating new generations of people who see the benefits in helping others. A dress recipient on the network's website writes, “Throughout college I reflected on the kindness that those people showed me . . . . Now that I have finished college and am a successful businesswoman, I have seized the opportunity to return the love and acceptance that this organization provided me.”

Paying it forward pays kids back

Research shows that giving back is also healthy for future civic participation. A 2007 study in the American Education Research Journal suggests that “school civic knowledge is important for later voting” and encourages community service as one way to foster that knowledge. When graduating seniors give back to their schools and neighborhoods, it provides them an important link to their communities and some real world application of the knowledge they've gained through twelve years of schooling.