Community service has been an important part of 4-H for many years. In 1927 the 4-H pledge was adopted and included the importance of service in the third line. “I pledge my Hands to larger service.” Ever since then, every time a 4-H member or volunteer recites the pledge, they are reminded of the importance of serving their “club, community, country and world”.
Why is it, however, that youth volunteerism is so important? What are the benefits to the recipient of volunteer efforts, and what are the benefits to the individual who volunteers? Understanding the answers to these questions can help program leaders and members plan for more effective community service projects that maximize the benefits to everyone involved.
Youth in our country are volunteering in increasing numbers. Some youth volunteer as part of a school based service-learning program. Others are involved in service projects at their church. Young people involved in youth development programs such as 4-H or Scouts typically perform community service projects, either as requirements or enhancements to their other project work.
Young people are increasingly seeking out opportunities to improve the world by volunteering their service to projects they deem to be important. Consider the following statistics:
Communities enjoy benefits far beyond the financial aspects when youth contribute to service projects. When youth volunteer, adults tend to volunteer also, resulting in a life long volunteer. The community gains a generation of young people who care about where they live and are willing to make a commitment to improvement.
While benefits to the communities served can be translated to a monetary figure, the benefits reaped by the young people offering their service have a positive impact on them personally both immediate and into the future.
Beyond the personal benefits, young people as a whole are rewarded in our society when they volunteer. Many adults hold negative beliefs about young people in general. They look odd and dress wildly. They travel in large groups and engage in rowdy behavior while playing loud music. The media portrays negative images of youth who get into trouble and commit crimes for example . Sixty-one percent of American adults are convinced that today’s youth face a crisis in their values and morals, look at teenagers with misgiving, and view them as undisciplined, disrespectful and unfriendly.
Young people perceive these negative beliefs. Only 20% of young people perceive that adults in the community value them. When presented with images of young people doing community service, the opinion of adults might be changed. Volunteer opportunities provide an environment for people of different generations to work together for a common goal, as well as offering an opportunity for mutual understanding.
The skills and developmental assets gained by young people who volunteer early in life translate to future benefits for them personally, and for society.
Some youth volunteer to fulfill the requirement of a school, or youth group assignment. Although these projects may be required of the assignment, the young people are typically choosing to be involved in programs that have such requirements. The research data tells us that youth get involved not only for personal reasons, but also for reasons that reach far beyond them as individuals.
Major reasons cited by teens for volunteering:
The evidence is strong that young people do volunteer. They reap benefits personally, and their community reaps benefits now and in the future. How do we encourage young volunteers to continue their service activities? And, how do we encourage new youth volunteers? There are some ways that adults working with youth can encourage them towards volunteering:
Young people volunteering for their communities is a tremendous win-win situation for the young volunteers, the organizations and communities they serve. The benefits are reaped now, and in the future.
The information in this fact sheet and additional information on young volunteers performing community service may be found at the following web locations:
Extension's Communication Team
Latham, M., 2003, Young Volunteers: The Benefits of Community Service, Extension | University of Nevada, Reno, FS-03-23
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