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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Who Will? I Will!

I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.—Mahatma Gandhi
With the school year rapidly coming to a close, producing a bumper crop of High School graduates; I was asked to write a column about youth volunteering to make our world a better place. With the recent story of out of control girls pummeling a classmate senseless and local knuckleheads spitting on a woman’s car, one might be tempted to believe the worst; but as with most things, our youth receive a mixed report card. A number of economists and sociologists have noted that both income and education levels are diverging, with smaller numbers of people having more of both these things. Like the connection between education and income level, there are similar connections between education, income level and volunteerism.
According to a study by the Corporation for National and Community Service, 59% of non-disadvantaged youth volunteer, while youth from disadvantaged homes have a volunteer rate of 43%, and have lower rates of participation in service learning or school civic clubs. However, it is disadvantaged youth that have more to gain, and they possibly get more from volunteering. It is not my intent to republish the results of this study, but I find it interesting that youth from disadvantaged households are more likely to volunteer with religious organizations, and they are most likely to volunteer when asked by a teacher.
Youth volunteerism is on the rise, and the value of that free labor is estimated to be worth over 34 billion dollars (yes, that’s “billion” with a “b”) per year. These youth are more likely to discuss politics, more likely to believe they can make a difference in the world, more likely to believe they can graduate from college and are 3.5 times more likely to volunteer in the next year. Parents, if you need just one reason to nudge your child to volunteer, how about the fact that a child that volunteers just one hour a week is 50% less likely to abuse drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or engage in destructive behavior?
Before we all overdose on a picture made of sweetness and light, may I remind everyone that teenage violence is also up; whether one measures the violence by numbers of incidents, or by the level of that violence. I point this out to drive home my original assertion we are seeing a divergence in society in which education, income level and volunteerism are connected, not by cause and effect, but in a correlational relationship.
In 1997, only 37% of American adults believed children would make the world a better place, and 61% believed youth faced a moral and ethical crisis and viewed them as undisciplined, disrespectful and unfriendly. However, as of 2004, youth volunteered at a rate over double the rate adults did, and the rate older teens volunteer is double the rate of older teens from 1989. While we might pause to pat ourselves on the back, our time would be better spent patting the volunteering youth of our nation on the back.
If you wish to do something powerful for your child, your community and your nation, encourage your children to volunteer. The best way you can encourage volunteerism is to volunteer to work with them. We have a number of local organizations that could use your help, and I will highlight some of them next week. In the meantime, if you need somewhere to apply you time and talents, email me and I will be happy to provide some local suggestions.

Tagline: Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling, is currently working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University, and is more than happy to speak to your group or organization. He can be reached at

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