Primary Sources: Through Community Service, Youth Make Friends and Influence People

A 4-H member shows a cow at a county fair.

Two recent articles in 4-H's Journal of Youth Development highlight the ways young people benefit from participating in community service programs. Such programs, if organized around a youth-centered philosophy, can empower young people, helping them to gain confidence, social skills and friends.

(Publications discussed here do not necessarily reflect the views of NCFY, the Family and Youth Services Bureau or the Administration for Children and Families.)

It comes as no surprise: Young people become more engaged in volunteer work and advocacy – and get more out of the experiences – when adults value their words and actions, say the authors of “Youth Perspectives on Meaningful Participation in Community Based Programs: A Qualitative Assessment” (PDF, 1.41 MB). The authors involved youth in their research project by using Photovoice, a process in which subjects double as researchers, taking photographs to represent their community and their points of view. Youths’ photo essays and their discussions about their work gave the researchers a better understanding of how young people experience out-of-school advocacy and volunteerism programs. Youth said the programs that engaged them the most were ones in which they could express themselves without censorship, had opportunities to make friends with adults and other youth, and felt that adults valued their contributions highly. The authors suggest that two keys to promoting meaningful participation by youth are having a youth-focused program philosophy and program leaders who are approachable and foster collaboration with youth.

What happens when you let young people give away $12,000? The authors of “Positive Youth Development Through Civic Engagement” (PDF, 1.56 MB) entrusted 18 youth in Spartanburg, SC, with just that responsibility, asking them to award eight grants to youth-serving organizations over the course of a year. The youth took part in interactive workshops on topics such as brainstorming and implementing plans to improve the community and writing and reviewing grants. The young philanthropists reported that the experience helped shape their identities, boosted their initiative and interpersonal skills, taught them about teamwork, gave them stronger bonds with caring adults and increased both their awareness of their community’s needs and their feelings of responsibility toward their community.

Go to the NCFY literature database for abstracts of these and other publications.

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