YouthZone Corner: Communities benefit from youth involvement
The potential that our youth population offers is exciting to me. Being involved with young people in our area is a delightful part of my job at YouthZone, and I enjoy the opportunity to promote and write about the importance of kids becoming involved in their communities.
At YouthZone, part of our mission is to provide opportunities for youth to be responsible, contributing members of society. We offer many ways for youth to contribute their gifts, talents and skills to our communities.
For many years, YouthZone has been training students in the Trained Involved Teen Assisting Non-Profits (TITAN) project. The students are trained to serve on a board of directors for an organization for which they have a passion, and they often become an integral part of decision making, fundraising and management of the organizations for which they volunteer.
Since 1990, we have incorporated youth into our Teen Pals Mentoring Program, which I have had the high honor to coordinate. For 27 years, teens have provided ethical guidance, encouragement, friendship, support and love to children in our communities and have been instrumental in showing their younger peers that they have choices that can make their own lives more successful and fulfilling and stop cycles of violence, addiction and dysfunction that may be occurring in these children’s homes. Many of our Teen Pals Mentors are interested in the program because they want to work with children later in their professional lives as teachers, child counselors, recreation directors, etc. Often they use their experience as a Teen Pals Mentor to procure a job in a child-related field after college.
With our clientele that are engaged in the court system, we offer meaningful community service opportunities to help fulfill their court requirements. Our philosophy is that “this intervention will help provide restoration to the youth’s community and to themselves, while also providing a pro-social activity and further engagement in the community. YouthZone sees community service as a vital part of addressing substance abuse by engaging youth in alternative positive activities.” We have several agencies that support this program, and we encourage youth to volunteer for an agency for which they have a passion. For example, if a youth is concerned about our community homeless or underserved populations, they can volunteer for Extended Table or LIFT-UP and have the hands-on experience of assisting those for with whom they desire to connect and offer their resources. We also have group community service opportunities that have provided young people with the opportunity to work with their peers at the recycling center and at the community gardens, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers and WindWalkers. Other projects have included picking up trash from local river banks and parks and participating in local festivals in various capacities.
Local churches and schools use youth volunteers as peer readers or as assistant helpers in the classrooms and playgrounds. School districts have made youth volunteering a graduation requirement, as they see the benefit to both youth and the community.
As a result of youth community involvement, a positive attitude towards volunteering often continues into adulthood.
As a community, we benefit from the time, skills and other resources youth give to our communities. How might you promote, include and encourage youth involvement in your job, agency, school, church neighborhood and family?
Patty Schaffner is director of YouthZone’s Pals Mentoring Program.
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