Community Service & Youth: The Big Benefits for Kids Who Volunteer
by Christi Houser, Youth Task Force Volunteer
Parents all agree that in today’s competitive world the value of service for our children can be tremendous. It is understood, also, that volunteering is a requirement for gaining access to the universities where our graduates want to attend. College admissions teams state that when looking at thousands of applicants it is easy for them to discern when service is an authentic endeavor or whether it is something a graduate did to fulfill a requirement. The applicants that have a true connection to their service fared better in the application process than those who didn’t.
Community service may seem like one more thing to check of the list, but it actually carries with it far more benefits than previously thought. However, today it is harder and harder for us to carve out time for ourselves and our children to volunteer. The frenetic pace of weekly activities comes with a constant level of low-grade exhaustion and heightened stress. Is it any wonder that we have an emotional tank reserve of zero left over for giving back? It might be prudent to rethink our commitments and to include a little more time spent in meaningful service to others and filling our reserves back up.
In an article from the New York Times, studies show that community service, done for whatever the reason, is a good thing. However, how it is done and if it also involves “service learning” will affect whether kids feel positive about the work they do. Joseph E. Kahne, a professor at Mills College, along with his research team, completed a survey of 500 teens in 11th & 12th grade from all backgrounds throughout California and followed up with them three years after graduation. The researchers found that teens who were involved in any kind of community service, whether it was required or not, were more likely to be involved later in life. A key finding was that if volunteers were put into service situations that they didn’t understand or were mainly menial jobs, it was shown to actually be detrimental to serving in the future. Parents must help kids pick the right programs to volunteer with to avoid this common pitfall.
Joseph Youniss, a research professor in psychology at the Catholic University of America, who studied students in New York, recalls an example in his research. “I remember one kid who was a fullback, who had waited until his senior year to volunteer,” he said. “Then he filled the 40-hour service requirement by every Saturday taking a blind man to a gym and walking him through his physical activity.” He shared “This work changed the young man’s outlook on his role in the community and helping others.” The key to this switch is being assigned service in a teen’s own community and also having it aligned with the child’s abilities and interests.
The Saint Michael Youth Ministry team is deliberate about including volunteering as part of the event offerings to youth for community building and service. Youth serve at many organizations, including Dallas Animal Services, Interfaith Housing Coalition, Austin Street Shelter, North Dallas Shared Ministries, The Gathering, and Promise House to name a few.
I had a chance to speak with SMAA Youth group member Florence Ukeni, a 10th grader, who was volunteering with our youth at The Gathering in downtown Dallas on a recent Sunday. She shared with me that although she volunteers to gain hours required for graduation, what she really loves is working with and serving people. Creating real connections with others is what makes the experience special for her. The link between what she enjoys and something she needs to accomplish encourages her to keep showing up to serve others.
Studies show key benefits to volunteering include:
- Making Connections - Volunteering connects us to others by allowing us to meet new people or improve existing relationships. It also helps to increase social skills.
- Strengthens Families - Volunteering as a family shows your children, who watch everything you do, that you believe in giving back to the community.
- Mind & Body - Volunteering is good for your overall health. It counteracts the effects of stress, anger and anxiety. These effects can have a profound impact on psychological well-being. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person, or even to an animal. It also creates a solid support system that combats depression, builds self-confidence and makes us happy. Those who volunteer regularly have a lower mortality rate than those who do not.
- Academic & Career Advancement - Volunteering can advance academic and career prospects. It helps us gain experience in an area of interest, or even to practice important skills like teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management and organization.
Community service brings fulfillment to life. Take a look at all the volunteer opportunities that SMAA has to offer and reap the benefits for yourself, your children, and your church community.
Help Guide - “Volunteering and its surprising benefits” Authors: Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. and Lawrence Robinson. Last updated: December 2018.
New York Times – “The Benefits of Volunteerism, if the service is real” Author: Alina Tugend: July 30, 2010
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