What will the youth of America be doing in 1991?
According to recent statistics published by the Independent Sector, a national forum to encourage giving, volunteering and not-for-profit initiative, more than 58 percent of teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17 will be spending nearly four hours each week volunteering.Teenagers in Utah County are no exception to the growth in youth volunteerism, according to Lori Hirst, director of the United Way Volunteer Center and adviser to the Youth Volunteer Council.
"We have more than 40 high school students from around the county on the Youth Volunteer Council," Hirst said. "Every other month the council sponsors a service project, with alternating months being used to hold meetings at the various high schools.
The Independent Sector released its study in December revealing that there is a high level of volunteerism among American teenagers.
During the Christmas season in Utah County, students from area high schools spent time with handicapped children at the Recreation For All Handicapped Center in Provo.
"We made Christmas gifts with the children, played, sang songs and told stories," said Jennifer Rindlisbacher, a senior at Spanish Fork High School. "I really enjoyed that. It was neat to see the kids' faces."
Many teenagers are finding that helping others makes their own problems seem smaller. One member of the Youth Volunteer Council has been volunteering since she was 13.
"I've been involved with volunteer work since I was in the ninth grade," Orem High School senior Lisa Hacken said. "This school year we have done many small, but important things. My friends seemed eager to get involved, they just didn't realize how much fun it could be."
A growing emphasis on community service by schools is apparently having a particularly positive impact on teens volunteering. Among the 61 percent of respondents to the national study, who reported that their schools encouraged community service, 69 percent actually volunteered.
High schools in the three local school districts either encourage service projects or have running programs on volunteerism.
Nationally, among the 28 percent who reported that their schools did not encourage community service, only 44 percent volunteered.
"It is not surprising, but nevertheless reassuring that, like adults, a very high percentage of teens said yes to volunteering when asked directly by another," said Virginia Hodgkinson, vice president of research at Independent Sector.
"It certainly reinforces the advice to non-profit groups that reaching out and asking Americans of almost any age to volunteer has a high success rate."
Jennifer Talley, a senior at Provo High School, has been involved with the Youth Volunteer Council since its beginning three years ago.
"We've painted a barn, cleaned an older lady's home and yard, raised money for the food bank and the women's shelter," Talley said. "I individually volunteer at the Family Support and Treatment Center."
According to Talley, most people (including teenagers) would like to serve, they just don't know what's out there. Since the inception of the Youth Council, many junior high and high schools students from around Utah Valley have spent much of their spare time helping others.
The Independent Sector survey also revealed some interesting attitudes of American teenagers. The teen respondents expressed more confidence in health and social service organizations, federated charitable appeals, public higher education and the media than in all other major institutions of society, including government, organized labor or Congress.
Other findings from the study on youth volunteerism include:
- Teenagers who volunteered "formally" (regular work with an organization) in 1989 gave 1.3 billion hours.
- The most frequently cited reasons teens gave for why they started volunteering were that they wanted to do something useful (47 percent) and that they thought they would enjoy the work (38 percent). These same reasons were most frequently cited as reasons why they continued to volunteer.
- Fifty-three percent of teen volunteers reported that they were currently volunteering more hours than they did two years ago.
- Teen volunteers most frequently cited getting along with and relating to others and how to be kind, helpful and respectful as the major skills they learned from their community service that could be used in other parts of their lives.
- An overwhelming majority of teen volunteers - 85 percent - rated their volunteer experience as good or very good. Less than one percent rated their volunteer experience as not good at all.
With these kinds of statistics also being reflected locally, Hirst believes than the next few years will see tremendous growth in the area of teen volunteerism in Utah Valley.