Founder of Project Giving Kids, Molly Yuska, shares her thoughts on the paramount importance of youth servicee. The following article recently appeared in the Philanthropy Journal.
In 1989, President George H. W. Bush articulated a vision of a “thousand points of light” in his inaugural address, encouraging Americans everywhere to take action through service. While this call to action was by no means new at the time, then-President Bush brought to the forefront of the national discussion the importance of service. Subsequent leaders carried this torch forward in their own ways, further cementing the principle that service is integral to who we are as a people. Commitment to service has become a part of who we are as a society and as a culture.
As a result, the United States now enjoys one of the highest volunteerism rates in the world. In 2013, about 62.6 million Americans – 25.4 percent of the adult population – gave 7.7 billion hours of volunteer service worth an estimated $173 billion. Among teenagers, the volunteer rate is nearly double that of adults. The impact these numbers represent on nonprofit organizations providing many critical services spanning a wide variety of important issues is significant, as is the overall benefit to society.
As impressive as the figures stated above may appear, we are missing the opportunity to make an even greater impact. This missed opportunity is rooted in the reality that as a nation we fail to engage our children in lives of service at a young enough age. Parents aren’t really to blame – between sports, academics, playdates and family obligations, little time is left over for service opportunities. This is why most children don’t encounter service opportunities until they near adulthood. And for those children who DO seek out service opportunities at a young age, it’s frustratingly difficult to identify age-appropriate volunteer opportunities. Herein lies the pain-point that Project Giving Kids alleviates.
Participating in community service early in childhood helps cultivate empathy and helps kids forge stronger relationships as they grow in their ability to understand at a deeper level the experiences and perspectives of others. Fast-forward to the teenage years and statistics show those who volunteer tend to do better in school, are less likely to use drugs, have better self-esteem, and develop strong leadership skills, all of which help when it comes time to fill out those all-important college applications. When we volunteer side-by-side with our children, it feels good to do something together that has meaning, and those are the memories we all want to hold on to.
Whatever the reason for starting, the fire that is ignited when one begins on the journey of giving back is not readily extinguished. Those who volunteer in their youth are twice as likely to volunteer as adults. What is more, volunteering in one’s youth also influences both the propensity to donate (to charitable organizations), as well as the amount actually given. In other words, the seed that is planted continues to flourish in many ways, making engagement of youth in service a significant opportunity for the nonprofit sector as a whole.
Beyond the benefits to the nonprofit community specifically, youth service rates also correlate to higher levels of general civic engagement, including voting rates, as a stronger sense of social issues and a desire to influence them are also important byproducts of early and repeated exposure to service. In other words, our democracy and society at-large win, too.
Project Giving Kids is one way to take the friction out of finding where to begin this journey of giving back by connecting kids to causes they care about and to local organizations working on those causes through a creative online platform, while simultaneously strengthening the nonprofit sector by connecting them to new pipelines of volunteers and donors. The benefits at the individual, organizational, community and national levels are clear, not only in the moment but further down the line. We all must work to make service at the earliest of ages a priority, and in doing so, we may find there are many more points of light than we ever imagined.