Last summer was hardly a dull one for 18-year-old Dean Surette. After his graduation from Lake Braddocks High School, Burke, Va., he went to National Public Radio where he:
* Placed overseas telephone calls to newspaper correspondents in Beirut to gather day-to-day background information about the war in Lebanon.
* Interviewed experts at universities and think tanks about implications of the war for Syria, Jordan and other countries.
* Advised producers of NPR's "All Things Considered" on which experts warranted being taped for the show.
Kimberley Williams, 15, after completing her sophomore year at Wilson High School in the District worked at D.C. General Hospital's property-section office where she:
* Learned to use a computer.
* Fed data into the computer when the property section developed a new software program for tracking inventory and property.
Besides experiences that both teen-agers say were exciting, satisfying and fun, Surette and Williams had something else in common. Neither was paid any wages; they were volunteers.
These are the weeks when armies of teens begin pounding the pavements in search of summer jobs. Most will spend June through August scooping ice cream or cooking burgers at fast-food chains. For many, the money earned is more important than the work experience. Their earnings will go toward college expenses, the stereo of their dreams or for helping out with family finances.
Some who pound and seek need the job experience more than they need the money. For them, there's an alternative: If they can afford to waive all or part of the compensation, volunteer jobs--most are part-time--have several pay-offs.
"They are a chance to explore career options, to look around and get a feel for a particular occupation," says Bill Hammill, director of the Prince George's County Voluntary Action Center.
Teens interested in careers in the medical field, for instance, can do volunteer work at hospitals or nursing homes. Those interested in wildlife or the environment can work at such places as the World Wildlife Fund, the Sierra Club or the National Park Service. For budding actors, actresses or dramatists, Ford's and Folger theaters have volunteer positions.
"I want to major in communications and that's why I'm down here," says Audrey Wineglass, a 16-year-old student at Banneker High School in the District who, like Surette, has been an active volunteer at NPR.
Volunteer jobs also look good on a college application and on a job re'sume'.
"The contribution is looked on as something that's meaningful," says Florence Dembling, personnel director and coordinator of volunteers for Public Citizen, Inc., an organization affiliated with Ralph Nader.
"If I have a choice of a person who's done volunteer work and a person who hasn't, first choice for a staff position will go to the person with previous volunteer experience."
Many youngsters who have done volunteer work for an agency have been able to turn that job into a staff position. Surette, for instance, was offered a paid job with NPR's "All Things Considered" at the end of the summer. He postponed college for a year and worked for NPR instead.
His overall NPR experience, Surette says now, "made a big difference in my life. I needed some kind of change before I went off to college, and this was it."
Even if a volunteer job doesn't turn into a paying job, supervisors at the volunteer job can provide useful references for future employment.
Jean Berg, director of Arlington's Volunteer Office, suggests that teens who take volunteer jobs ask their supervisors to keep a record of their hours for future reference.
For many, volunteer jobs can be a broadening experience as they learn how an office functions, meet people they wouldn't otherwise meet and develop social responsibility.
Noelle Vitt, director of admissions at Holton Arms, a private school in Bethesda that requires community service for graduation, says one-on-one, direct-service (non-office) volunteer work "gives our students an awareness of community needs and of the kinds of things they can do to have an impact on the community."
"Many young people have an impotent feeling because they can't vote. One thing they see when they volunteer is that one person can make a difference, and there's an excitement in that," adds Public Citizen's Dembling.
For most teen-agers, though, the big pay-off is in the opportunity to work in an exciting, adult environment. One warning, however, expressed by more than one volunteer: Regardless of how exhilarating the environment, the job may consist of mundane, clerical chores such as answering phones, filing, typing, stuffing envelopes.
"It can be discouraging at first. You want to do more, but you can't," says Surette, recalling his first weeks at NPR.
His advice is to be patient, put in as many hours as you can and use the time to learn about the organization.
"You have to figure out how the system works, what the routine is and what's expected of you before you can ask for more responsibility. You can't just jump in and say, 'Here I am. What can I do?' "
A volunteer job doesn't mean all plans for earning money have to be abandoned. Most agencies who take youth volunteers--some take them as young as 13, but most look for age 15 and up--do not expect a full-time commitment.
One of the virtues of a volunteer job is the ability of the worker to set his or her hours. Many are able to combine volunteer work with a part-time job for pay. Thus teen-agers can have the practical experience of earning money as well as the good feelings that come from being on the front line of a good cause, gaining career experience or developing an impressive re'sume'.