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Empower Youth to Serve Others - April 2002

"Any definition of a successful life in America must include service to others." - President George W. Bush, Presidential Inaugural Address, January 20, 2001

The importance of youth service is oftentimes underestimated. In fact, only 20% of young people perceive that adults in the community value youth (Search Institute, 1997, http://www.search-institute.org). The hours spent by young people volunteering in their communities is valuable because of those benefiting from the service, but perhaps more significantly because of the impact it has on the volunteering youth themselves. The intent of this article is to reinforce the tremendous impact youth can potentially have on our society and how their involvement in the community can improve their own lives as well. The following is data obtained from a variety of research and service organizations indicating the importance of youth volunteerism. Website addresses are indicated where available to assist in grant writing and other research needs.

According to a 1996 Independent Sector/Gallup poll (http://www.pointsoflight.org/pressroom/2002facts.html) , teenagers volunteer 2.4 billion hours annually. And out of 13.3 million youth, 59.3% volunteer an average of 3.5 hours per week.

The kinds of community service that interest students the most fall into four categories (Prudential, 1995, http://www.prudential.com/community/spirit): Charitable activities (88%) - non-profit or church organizations involved with the needy, youth, and senior citizens; Educational activities (83%) - tutoring, peer counseling, coaching sports and student government; Environmental activities (82%) - cleaning up or improving parks and recreation facilities; Cultural activities (66%) - theater, music and arts groups.

The "Do Something Young People's Involvement Survey" (http://www.ysa.org/nysd/statistics.html) indicated that 73% of America's young people believe they can make a difference in their communities. Teens choose to volunteer because they feel compassion for people in need, they can do something for a cause in which they believe, and they believe if they can help others, others will help them (Independent Sector/Gallup, 1996.) And volunteering, the environment and eating healthy are the top three activities youth consider "cool" (Teenage Marketing and Lifestyle Study, 1998.)

Most importantly, there is a range of evidence demonstrating the positive impact of youth service. Youth who volunteer just one hour per week are 50% less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or engage in destructive behavior (Search Institute, 1995). Youth who volunteer are more likely to do well in school, graduate, vote and be philanthropic (UCLA/Higher Education Research Institute, 1991). In a 1996 Independent Sector/Gallup Poll, the top 10 benefits reported by youth were as follows:
  • They learned to respect others
  • They learned to be helpful and kind
  • They learned how to get along with and relate to others
  • They gained satisfaction from helping others
  • They learned to understand people who were different from themselves
  • They learned how to relate to younger children
  • They became better people
  • They learned new skills
  • They developed leadership skills
  • They became more patient with others
With so much need in our communities, it is only logical to use one of our most valuable assets to meet that need - young people. But all too often, these bright, energetic people who will inherit our society are never asked to serve. Teenagers need guidance to grow into the leaders they are destined to become and they are eager for the opportunity to volunteer. For us to truly envision youth as the resources they are, we must begin to utilize their capabilities, ask their opinions, recognize their input and follow their lead.

Empower Youth to Serve Others
©2002 Kelly Curtis, www.empowering-youth.com

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