August 30, 2015
Years ago I heard a claim that if you have not been exposed to volunteering before the age of 15 you are unlikely to volunteer as an adult. I have never been able to find a source, or to know if this assertion can be verified, but I sure am aware of the current level of involvement by young people in volunteer projects of all kinds.
It’s like there is a huge surge of interest, from schools, organisations, communities and young people themselves. Young people create their own organisations, like Canteen, or SADD, or the Student Volunteer Army, or their own specific projects. Young people are the faces of Youthline and UN Youth Aotearoa New Zealand.
The conventional age range for youth is 15-24, but volunteering can start at a much younger age. How about the infant that goes with his Mum to a High School Class to talk about child-rearing and parenting? (It’s the Mum who does the talking of course.) Or the whole families who get involved in fundraising or a beach clean-up? Or you can stretch the age range to 30, and find at least one Volunteer Centre consistently registers its highest proportion of volunteers in the 20-29 age band.
Yay! Here are another couple of generations coming along to inspire communities, to advocate for and to lead change, and to fill gaps or attend to particular needs – even as older people fade from the volunteering scene.
Student Community Involvement Programmes have been a feature in New Zealand since the early 1990s, developed and promoted by several Volunteer Centres to introduce young people to volunteering and to learn about different parts of their communities. Establish relations with schools and youth groups and services, negotiate for projects with local organisations and there can be lots of satisfaction all round.
But not if your experience is like this story:
A class of eleven and twelve year olds are assigned to a coastal regeneration programme, clearing the scrubby stuff and replanting the area. ‘Assigned’ sounds like there is not much choice, like it’s not the students’ idea. If you didn’t want to go you had to stick around at school all day with nothing to do. When the students get to the location there is little instruction and not enough tools for everyone. OK – those hanging around can go and do a beach clean-up.
No wonder there were plenty of gripes and groans from this episode, which was not, I hasten to add, organised through a Volunteer Centre.
So it’s clear the basic principles of a good volunteer programme still apply, regardless of the age of volunteers. Get the planning done, ensure you’ve got adequate resources, and most of all check the project is something young people really want to work on. See this excellent resource, or this one to learn the best practice tricks.
When Student Volunteer Week comes around on September 7 I hope there will be plenty of opportunities to celebrate student volunteer efforts in the community. Let’s acknowledge their initiatives, enthusiasm, commitment and their willingness to pitch in and to ‘make a difference’.
PS “Get them while they’re young” is a line from the musical Evita, interposed on a paean to ‘Santa Evita’ sung by a chorus of children.