Children as young as 12 can lend a hand at the science center.

This monthly feature focuses on volunteer opportunities for Central Ohio families.

COSI is a favorite destination for Central Ohio children, but it's also popular with young volunteers.

“Our youth volunteer program starts as early as age 12,” said Terri Gregoroff, COSI's director of volunteer services.

At a given time, COSI has around 500 volunteers, about 300 of whom are ages 12-17. Older teens can participate in the adult volunteer program. “Our youth volunteers primarily serve in roles where they are directly engaging with our guests,” Gregoroff said, such as working in guest relations, littlekidspace or as “floor faculty” running hands-on science demonstrations.

To get the ball rolling, prospective volunteers fill out an online application. “We take them through an interview process,” Gregoroff said, and staff members grade applicants on whether they possess presentation skills, are comfortable talking to strangers and are willing to learn new things.

Applications are accepted twice a year, in the spring and fall. (The next window opens Sept. 1.) Participants must commit to volunteering at least twice a week for a minimum of four hours each time. “It's a really great experience,” Gregoroff said. “What we're really doing is helping the youth develop 21st century skills.”

Participants learn teamwork, communication, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. Through the volunteer “career ladder,” they can step into leadership roles (some of which are paid) and participate in workshops on topics such as résumé writing and interview skills to prepare them for the workforce. “We see it as a mutually beneficial relationship,” Gregoroff said.

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