5 Tips for Engaging Youth Volunteers

Guest post by Susan Ragsdale

5 Tips for Engaging Youth Volunteers
A young lady works on door decorations for Ronald McDonald House during service camp.

“[The world’s hope] is to rely on youth . . . not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” — U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy

When I was young, I watched the Wonder Twins on Saturday morning cartoons. These youth worked with superhero adults to make a difference in the world. They assessed situations, made decisions and took action to try to make things better.

Sometimes their plans worked; sometimes they didn’t. But, that didn’t stop them from using their minds, hearts, time and energy to do what they could.

Today, there are many youth who want to make that difference and yet are often overlooked as possible resources in the volunteer pool. Working with various youth groups over the past 22 years, I’ve seen youth dig in and happily do what they can to make things right, better and more just and come up with viable solutions.

In engaging youth as volunteers, I recommend these tips from my book Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth:

  1. First, recognize youth are resources in your own thinking. Acknowledge that they have a perspective you don’t but that you need.Young people’s brains are often unfettered by “no”. Adults have often been told too many times that there ideas won’t work; systems are too hard to change. But youth haven’t repeatedly heard that message, thus they often have more freedom to tackle problems with enthusiasm, courage and out-of-the-box thinking. Use that resource!

  3. Ask them to do good. Ask them to make the world better. Ask them what they think; ask them to get involved, to help, and to share their gifts.

  5. Look for and engage youth from their sparks (their interests and talents). When a youth is actively involved in his spark, he is following his innate purpose and will be fully engaged in what’s going on. Challenge them to tap into their powers and use them for good.

  7. Mix it up. Involve youth volunteers in a variety of opportunities. Expose them to different community needs and ways to contribute. Help them find their passion and voice.

  9. Let youth work side-by-side with adults. Working next to adults expands youths’ perspectives and feeds into their own sense of purpose as they hear why adults are giving of their time.

We can’t afford to wait until young people are grown up before they understand or learn about society’s problems, find their voice, take action, and have an impact. We need to harness their energies, perspectives, gifts, and understandings today as actors in finding solutions for today’s challenges. We need them and they need us. Take a chance and start seeking young people out as volunteers.

See how these youth are serving: http://bit.ly/1thSvDh then send me how you’re engaging youth. We’ll tell your story on our blog.

Susan Ragsdale is a nationally recognized trainer in positive youth development, service-learning, and play with purpose as well as the co-author of 7 books including her latest, Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, (published in September 2014 by Search Institute Press). Learn more through her website and her blog, or reach her at cad@TheAssetEdge.net or Twitter @TheAssetEdge.