We know that young people have a lot to gain from volunteering. But a recent study suggests the personal benefits are greater than you might expect.
Prudential Financial's Spirit of Community Initiative surveyed 1,200 teenagers in the U.S. to better understand the motivators and differences between young people who volunteer and young people who don't. Nine out of 10 respondents who volunteered said that service makes them feel good about themselves, in part because it leads to feeling like they made a difference (79%), feeling needed (59%), feeling happier/less stressed (59%), and building self-esteem and confidence (54 percent).
Compared to respondents who didn't volunteer, volunteers rated themselves an average of 15 points higher on traits including kindness, leadership, dependability, confidence, and optimism.
While two-thirds of young respondents reported that they had volunteered in the past, only a quarter of those students indicated they do so on a regular basis. Given these benefits, clearly there is a compelling case to be made for increasing participation by kids in community service.
So how can middle level students recognize the benefits of volunteering?
Many young respondents reported that they first volunteered because they were encouraged at school or by parents and friends. Adult support is key for middle level students who, due to the age requirements of many more common venues like animal shelters and soup kitchens, may have a harder time finding service opportunities.
Other resources for middle level students include national youth service organizations such as generationOn and VolunTEEN Nation. The Prudential Spirit of Community Initiative also offers a free youth service tip guide called "Catch the Spirit: A Student's Guide to Community Service" (see the PDF here; order hard copies for your classroom here).
Over the years, The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards has heard from young volunteers throughout the country, and many report that their service started with a passion—for animals, for reading, for helping other kids. Many wanted other students to know that no act of service is too small to make a difference.
In the words of seventh grader Courtney J., "we each have gifts and talents we can use to bless others in big ways and small ways. Never feel like you're too young to help others. Even the smallest bit of encouragement can really make someone's day!"
The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, sponsored by Prudential Financial in partnership with the National Association of Secondary School Principals, honors middle level and high school students for making meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service. Applications for 2017 awards are open through November 8.