When our kids earn money, we instill the value of saving some, spending some and giving some to charity. It is important to instill these values when it comes to their time, too. They should give some of their time as volunteers.
The Search Institute (www.search-institute.org) identifies 40 developmental assets that all youth should have to be successful. Among these are:
• Service to others, suggesting that youth volunteer one or more hours a week.
• Youth programs, suggesting that youth spend three or more hours a week in sports, clubs or organizations or community service.
• Caring suggests that young people place a value on helping others.
• Responsibility suggests that youth accept and take responsibility.
All of these assets can be attained when parents give their youth opportunities to volunteer. Many area high schools have service clubs in which high school youth learn about volunteer opportunities.
Charla Belinski, director of children, youth and families at the Snowmass Chapel, recalled a recent conversation with her high school son. He asked, "Shouldn't kids at school be doing service because they want to, not because someone's making them?"
Belinski's reply was great. She said, "The short answer is yes. I explained that often kids won't engage in community service on their own - not because they don't want to but because they either don't know how to get involved, or they simply don't think about it.
"Requiring someone to do community service is sometimes the kick in the pants they need. Who knows where that might lead. They may find they absolutely love giving back, but would have never experienced it without it being required," she said.
It is so true that many kids have not experienced volunteerism first hand, so they don't know where to start. Giving our children opportunities to volunteer can start as early as age 4 or 5.
At the Buddy Program, high school students from Aspen, Basalt and Roaring Fork high schools can participate in our Peer-to-Peer Program. These students mentor a youth at the elementary or middle school weekly throughout the school year. The high school students, called Big Buddies, have to apply, come to an interview, supply us with phone and written references and then attend a training in order to be accepted in to the program.
We set high expectations for them as volunteers and in turn get to witness the formation of some of the most extraordinary relationships.
In a study in 2010, we asked some of our Peer-to-Peer alum who are now in college about their experience as Buddies. Of these youth, 78 percent said the experience had helped them prepare for college and 72 percent reported that they were volunteering in college.
As parents, it is our job to instill in kids the importance of volunteerism from a young age. By modeling ways that you volunteer, your son or daughter will quickly learn themselves what a positive impact volunteering has. Whether it is spending a day working on local trails (check out Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers) or providing meals for homebound seniors (check with your local senior program), opportunities abound for youth to "pay it forward."
- Lindsay Lofaro is the program director for The Buddy Program. "Parent Talk" appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month. The column is the result of YouthZone, The Buddy Program, Family Visitor Programs, Kids First and Roaring Fork Family Resource Centers teaming up to provide parents with information and resources about strengthening family relationships.