Why engage all youth in service

Defining the benefits and the target audience

For the teenagers who spent their Saturday sprucing up the grounds of Humboldt Elementary School, it wasn't just a case of making one part of their inner city Portland, Oregon, neighborhood brighter. In the process they learned landscaping and carpentry basics; used math to figure out the proportions of flower beds; sharpened their problem solving and communications skills; and practiced working collaboratively. And, best of all, they finished the day with a tangible sense of accomplishment.

All too often, youth today are viewed as the recipients of volunteer services rather than assets who – through their own service to communities – can transform their lives and those of their peers, family, and neighbors. Youth offer unique perspectives, ideas, peer connections, and incredible energy – all things we need to make our communities stronger.

Research indicates that young people have a lot to gain from volunteering–including increased academic achievement, increased civic engagement, and a reduction of risky behaviors. Unfortunately, not all young people are given that opportunity. The volunteer rate of young people from disadvantaged circumstances is 16 percentage points lower than for middle and upper class youth.

But, the gap between the well-off kids and their less advantaged peers is much more about opportunity than willingness.  When young people from low-income communities are asked to help, they volunteer with an eagerness and intensity matched by their wealthier peers.

They also reap the same benefits. By volunteering, youth from disadvantaged circumstances increase their chances of succeeding in life. They are more likely to be successful at school and to avoid risky behaviors such as drug and alcohol use, crime, and promiscuity.

The voice of experience…

"When youth enter [our program] they may not have strong self-confidence or know how to have their voices heard or engage in social change; they build those strengths during the program. Others may not have much knowledge of social stratification or race relations, [but] by the time they leave, they have a better understanding of recent history and ways to address those issues."
—Tim Eubanks, Austin Voices for Education and Youth, Austin, TX

In this section we'll answer the questions: