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Youth Volunteerism: How Engaging Young Volunteers Can Benefit Organizations and Individuals

We all have a vested interest in seeing youth succeed. Regular access to civic-engagement opportunities can lead to better outcomes for children, young adults, and their communities. Youth who volunteer are more likely to perform better in school and work, and become civically active adults. Below, we discuss some of the many benefits of youth volunteerism, and how young volunteers can make valuable contributions to your organization. 

The Importance of Volunteerism for Youth

Why is volunteering important for youth? While we should support youth volunteerism to better our communities, children and teenagers who volunteer will also see and feel transformation within themselves. In the words of Opportunity Nation, “There is mounting evidence that volunteering, participating in service projects, and other forms of community involvement are more than feel-good activities. They can contribute to better outcomes for youth and for communities.” In other words, we all benefit by encouraging altruistic behaviors in our communities’ youth. Below, we outline some of the many ways volunteering can lead to success for teenagers and children:

Develop Transferable Skills

Youth who volunteer regularly practice skills—like collaboration and problem solving—that are vital to succeed in academics, the workplace, and their personal lives. Whether it’s collecting donations or caring for the elderly, youth develop an understanding of citizenship that extends into adulthood. Plus, volunteering helps teens fill their resumes with robust, real-world experience. That’s why colleges and employers look for civically engaged applicants who will thrive in team settings and take on challenging work. 

Reinforce Social Capital

Teens who volunteer build relationships and strengthen their support network, or “social capital.” Social capital strengthens trust and sense of community and is critical to upward mobility. According to Opportunity Nation, volunteer opportunities for low-income teens are especially integral in facilitating meaningful connections and sourcing educational pathways, “Research shows [volunteerism] can serve as an effective conduit to positive educational and career outcomes for low-income youth.” 

The act of volunteering increases the likelihood of finding employment, resulting in a measurable increase in employment among volunteers ages 16-24 who were not in school and previously unemployed. In addition, volunteering is an effective avenue for college students preparing to enter the workforce; employers are 82% more likely to choose a candidate with volunteering experience and 85% more likely to overlook resume flaws when volunteer work is present. 

Make Real Change

Volunteering gives youth the opportunity to work through real challenges and make meaningful change. These transformative experiences encourage teenagers and children to confront moral dilemmas, investigate solutions, and employ innovative thinking. As young volunteers begin to notice real changes as a result of their effort, they establish a cognitive connection between effort and positive outcomes. According to this article, young people who volunteer regularly develop a civic identity, as leaders and changemakers, and therefore become more socially and politically active adults.

Facilitate Respect

As children grow, they develop a more refined sense of self-awareness and an awareness of others. Volunteers must put their own needs aside to address the needs of others. Children who do so will also learn to value and understand themselves throughout the process. Empathy and citizenship are developed during childhood and adolescence. And participating in activities like caring for the elderly or addressing homelessness from an early age introduces young people to the process of confronting moral dilemmas and thinking about social change. Exposure to meaningful volunteer opportunities as children and adolescents will help foster lasting empathy and inclusivity, qualities necessary in cultivating safe, unified communities.

Support Academic Success

Nonprofits and volunteer centers have begun to partner with local campuses to develop service-learning and other volunteer programs. From them, we’ve learned that across all socioeconomic levels, teens who volunteer are less likely to feel disconnected from school and work. In fact, 82% of students who participated in service-learning reported increased positive feelings about attending high school, while 75% of students agree that service-learning had an impact on motivating them to work hard. The National Youth Leadership Council states that students who participated in service-learning scored higher in social studies, writing, and language arts subject tests than non-participating students. 

When students participate in service-learning curriculum, they demonstrate deeper cognitive engagement and greater motivation to learn. And educators are employing service-learning as a tool to reduce high-school dropout and increase achievement among at-risk students. Volunteer opportunities paired with a good education are the success “power couple” for today’s youth; nonprofits and schools together can develop a children and teen volunteerism program to support a rising generation of altruistic citizens.

The Benefits of Youth Volunteerism for Communities

The benefits of youth volunteerism are plentiful, and our volunteer organizations and communities reap just as many benefits when we encourage volunteerism among our nation’s youth, like incorporating new skills and ideas into your programs, fostering a community of trust, and encouraging lifelong volunteerism.

Build Safer Communities

Teens who volunteer are 50% less likely to participate in risky behaviors, are less likely to become pregnant and use drugs, and are more likely to experience psychological well-being. According to the 2017 Opportunity Index, thriving communities provide an infrastructure that supports civic participation (such as volunteerism and voting), health, education and work-life. Second only to youth disconnection, increased incarceration levels is an indicator most associated with opportunity deficiency for young people. Young people who are supported by their communities are less likely to become incarcerated as adults and more likely to lead healthy, productive lives. By providing opportunities for youth volunteerism, your organization can work to strengthen trust and build a sense of unity among your community’s diverse members.

Spread the Good

34% of the U.S. population is under the age of 25, and a quarter of the U.S. population is under the age of 18. Communities can tap into this substantial population and significantly increase your volunteer pool. With their vast social networks and technological savviness, youth make for great volunteer recruiters! Encourage teenagers and young helpers to invite their friends, and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish together. Check out this article for useful strategies organizations can employ to engage young volunteers. 

Introduce Fresh Perspectives

By welcoming youth volunteerism, your organization invites energetic perspectives and new ideas. Generally, involving a cross-section of volunteers can help your programs move forward. Need evidence? There are a variety of research and youth volunteerism quotes we’ve gathered from authoritative sources, but we found the words of Volunteer Canada to be most insightful:

In our changing world, where information and practices move at the speed of the Internet, determinedly maintaining the status quo can be a dangerous strategy. Today’s youth are the leaders and consumers of tomorrow. Their opinions and input can help voluntary organizations adapt to change and be prepared to meet the needs of the future.” 

According to research, young people are well-suited to solve complicated social problems. Between the ages of 12 and 25, when their brains are fast and sophisticated, teenagers and young adults are especially wired to seek new experiences and take risks. They can adjust easily, are naturally inquisitive, and are more likely to discover creative solutions. Hint: they’re more willing to listen to their peers than older adults, so give your young volunteers the space to communicate–and innovate–with each other. 

Foster Lifelong Engagement

You’ll not only increase your volunteer pool in the short-term, but you may also build lifelong relationships. That’s because those who volunteer when they’re young are more likely to become philanthropic adults invested in their communities. So reach out to parents and teachers to develop regular programs specifically for youth volunteerism; today’s youth just may become your biggest supporters for years to come!

Participation in volunteer and civic opportunities from an early age instills empathy, inspires a sense of citizenship, and helps youth find pathways to meaningful education and work. In fact, young people who volunteer help to improve the present, while ensuring healthy, secure futures for themselves and their communities.