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Mar 28

Youth Volunteerism

Posted on March 28, 2018 at 8:35 AM by Josh Yaworski

Don’t Discount Us!

Do you agree that more young people should be drawn to the non-profit sector? How can we inspire youth to embrace community involvement? How can we help them to better understand the significance of civic responsibility and social conscience?

Canada’s volunteer base is changing due to the natural attrition of the generations that served before us. It’s often been said that it is time to pass the community service torch. Yet, many youth are reluctant to grab hold of the torch, because they don’t fully comprehend the gaps that need to be filled.

Rather than saying “we need volunteers”, would it be better to instill a sense of belonging? Should we shape our youth by giving them more responsibility and trust? If they are directly invited to learn, sense, experience, create, and do things out of their regular routine, would they be more responsive?
We can set youth up for success by building upon their existing capacity. Let’s take time to ask them what they like to do or what their sparks are. Sparks are interests and talents that give joy and meaning to a young person's life. While sparks matter, it is beneficial to expose them to new things, too!

Communities always have projects that require help. Offering youth structured and unstructured volunteer opportunities widens their viewpoint and spurs their development. It is an opportune chance for personal growth.

To truly integrate youth, they should be treated like equals. Ageism can creep into our best intentions. Tokenism could diminish a youth’s enthusiasm to volunteer. Welcome and integrate young volunteers with intention and sincerity. If we don’t challenge them they won’t grow!

Support is vital to meeting the needs of young people. When adults manage youth, it is preferable to be there to guide them until they feel capable of handling the tasks on their own. Often, adults and youth are segregated, but getting them to work together is better! Youth can energize adults and adults can lead by example.

Volunteers will stay if they see logic and meaning to their role. Is there enough for them to do? Their time is valuable, too! Help them to understand what volunteering is - that it is more than helping people in need. It is active citizenship - a responsibility akin to voting or paying taxes. The metaphor about how a splash creates a ripple effect can help youth to understand the impact of their contributions.

It is not easy to change organizational habits. Often organizations will extend volunteer positions to youth without adapting them to a young person’s capacity or needs. Consider if there are sufficient resources, well-informed staff, friendly faces, flexible scheduling, youth-specific policies, cell phone considerations, role descriptions, parental permission, incentives, and adequate supervision.

An American study found that, “adults who were active as volunteers in their youth were more likely to give to their communities through volunteering and personal resources” (Wetzstein, 2002). Help young people to develop a life time habit of caring and serving their community. Youth volunteers have the potential to develop into leaders who positively contribute to their communities, help others, and participate in solving social issues.

Certainly, it takes extensive effort to prudently involve young people as volunteers. Discounting our youth as non-helpers contributes to a society of individualistic, centric-thinking people. Let us expose them to the realm of non-profits, active citizenship, and collective thinking. If we choose to intentionally involve youth in our community efforts, they will want to carry the torch.

Wetzstein, C. (2002, November 22). Youth volunteerism at 50-year high. (Press Release). The Washington Times.