Monthly Archives: July 2013

Enabling Youth to Take (Positive) Risks

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It’s 8 a.m. on a summer day and your mom makes you get out of bed. She says you’re signed up to volunteer all day today, and this is the first you’ve heard of it. You’re volunteering with an organization called YVC, and you didn’t even have the chance to invite at least one friend to come with you.

You drag yourself out of bed and get ready to go volunteer, cursing you’re up early and going to be volunteering somewhere where you don’t know anyone at all. After all, showing up anywhere alone as a teenager can be more painful than getting your wisdom teeth out.

You show up at the project, and sure enough, you don’t recognize a single person. Luckily, there’s a Team Leader who’s taken charge of the group and seems friendly. Before long, he’s leading the group in an icebreaker game, and you learn that one of your fellow Youth Volunteers goes to your rival school.

You begin working on the project, and before long you’ve pushed a dozen wheelbarrows full of bark mulch down the nature center trail. After a while, you’ve noticed you have more in common with the rest of the group than you thought even though the group is from all over the community and range in age from 11 to 18. Sure, as a 16 year-old you don’t often hang out with 11 year-olds, but there’s an 11 year-old volunteer who has the same passion for sports that you do.

Before long, the Team Leader gives the group a chance to take a break. The awkward silence from just a few hours ago is gone as everyone laughs about the time the wheelbarrow rolled uncontrollably down the hill, and you brag about having pushed the most wheelbarrow loads. The Team Leader also leads the group in a teambuilder game. You never expected a game called Charades Relay could be fun, but you gave it a try with the rest of the group then requested to play it again later when it turned out to be a blast.

All too soon, 3 p.m. had arrived, and the group had to say goodbye. Luckily, you knew you’d all be returning for three more days of volunteering, fun and new friends. The awkward situation gave way to an awesome day of making a difference in the community, and you couldn’t wait to go home and sign up for more volunteer projects in the future.

We hear it all the time: Teens are faced with risks every day. They may be exposed to drugs, violence, inappropriate behavior and so much more. But they’re also given the chance to take risks which lead to a positive outcome such as taking the risk to show up at a volunteer project where they don’t know anybody. Taking the risk to talk with a fellow volunteer from another school and finding out you actually have a lot in common. Taking the risk to play a new, silly game and have a lot of fun while doing so.

New research has shown risks are healthy for teens to take, and both teens and adults find happiness when they take risks. That’s not to say teens should be seeking out negative risky behaviors like drugs and alcohol. Instead, they can find a positive outlet to fulfill this desire for risks by taking positive risks and experiencing new things.

Developmental psychologist Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell conducted a study showing teens experience happiness when they are taking positive risks like those associated with volunteering. They pushed their boundaries and learned they were capable of new things, and this helped them find happiness through the experience. This kind of risk-taking could also help fulfill teens’ desires to take risks so that they aren’t so tempted to take more dangerous and negative risks. You can read more about her study and the implications this research has here.

YVC gives youth the chance to take risks of all kinds: trying new service projects, meeting new youth from different walks of life, meeting the people they’re serving and learning new skills. We’ve long believed volunteering can change a youth’s life, so we’re glad to see it can make them happier along the way.

If you’d like to take a turn stepping out of your comfort zone, donate to YVC to make a difference in the lives of youth by giving them the opportunity to take positive risks.

A huge thanks to Dr. Price-Mitchell for her enlightening study. If you’re interested in the research behind youth service, make sure to check out her website Roots of Action to learn more.

A Week at the Nature Sanctuary

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YVC is proud to be part of the Bank of America Student Leaders program here in Kansas City. Bank of America sponsors five interns to spend eight weeks working at YVC and learning the ins and outs of a nonprofit. These students just completed their junior or senior years of high school and help YVC Headquarters in addition to serving as extra support on YVC of Greater Kansas City’s summer projects. Jason Cocjin, one of this summer’s Student Leaders and a former YVC Youth Volunteer, tells the story of just one week of his internship below:

You wouldn’t think that anybody would choose to do heavy manual labor outdoors with temperatures close to 100 degrees. However, that’s exactly what a group of youth did with YVC of Greater Kansas City this summer. And believe it or not, they didn’t even want to go home at the end of the project! Why did they have so much fun working in the heat? Because it was an awesome YVC project. Here’s what happened:

The week started just like any other. Monday, Danielle (the Team Leader) and I waited with anticipation to see what this new group of volunteers would bring us. As is common on YVC projects, almost none of our 12 volunteers knew each other. We played an icebreaker game so our group could get to know each other a little before our work began. Unfortunately nobody seemed too keen on opening up; they seemed more interested in how much longer until they could leave.

Seeing this, Danielle and I decided to get started straight away. Danielle brought the younger boys and the girls to go rake and spread mulch along a trail at the nature center while I took a group of older boys to wheelbarrow and spread gravel along a different trail. At first it wasn’t too bad, but after an hour and a half, my arms felt like they were about to fall off. I could tell the volunteers were getting tired too, and I thought they would start complaining. Instead, they did something that caught me completely off guard. One of the boys started adding even more gravel to his wheelbarrow! He challenged the other volunteers saying that he wasn’t even tired yet, and before I knew it, all of them were filling their wheelbarrows and speeding off, the competitive nature of 16 year old boys taking over. This is how those boys bonded.  By the end of the day they were panting and exhausted, but if you didn’t already know them, you would have thought they were best friends. It was amazing to see how close these volunteers had gotten after working together for only six hours. Even better was Danielle said the same thing was happened in her group; the younger boys and the girls had a really great time and got a lot accomplished.

After that, everything went unbelievably well. Everyone started participating in the games, everyone was excited to be there, and I don’t think I could’ve asked for anything else. By the time we packed up to leave on Wednesday, we had all the things they wanted us to do finished, and we still had one more day! The agency employees were so impressed because they knew how hard the youth must have worked to finish so fast, and to show their appreciation they planned a cookout for the volunteers on Thursday. We spent Thursday hanging out, eating hotdogs and then in the afternoon Pat, one of the ladies from the agency, took us on an amazing walk through the sanctuary, teaching us about the park we worked so hard to improve. That was one of the best parts: the kids really got to learn about how much of a difference they made and their importance to the Parkville Nature Sanctuary.

By the end of the week, it was like a completely new group of kids. The same people who were anxiously staring at their watches at the beginning of the week were now asking their parents if they could stay a little bit longer at the end of the day so they could keep playing with their new friends. It was so easy for me to see not only how much the kids had an impact on the park, but also how this park helped these kids grow. I am happy I got to serve alongside these volunteers but I’m also sad because I’ll never be with the same group of kids again.

If I signed up for this internship and only experienced this one week, I would have been happy, but I have three more projects to go to and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me.

YVC Team Leaders: Superheroes

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Here’s an insider’s secret: Sometimes on YVC projects, things don’t go according to plans. Bad weather cancels the plan to plant a community garden, the nature center doesn’t have enough rakes for the whole group to help smooth out the hiking trail, or the daycare center has to put the kids down for an early nap instead of having more time to play with YVC Youth Volunteers.

One of YVC’s four goals is to engage youth in service projects that are challenging, rewarding and educational. Studies have shown  if a youth’s first experience with volunteering isn’t positive, they can be turned off from service forever.

We do everything here at YVC to make sure that doesn’t happen. Luckily, we have some superheroes on our side: YVC Team Leaders. They work to make sure that no change of plans interferes with a Youth Volunteer’s service experience so that youth always feel that their time is valuable to the agencies they’re serving. Like any good superheroes, though, they’re stealthy. They work to make sure the Youth Volunteers never even knew  a problem popped up.

Earlier this summer, two of these superheroes swooped down to save the day on what could have been a difficult project. Here’s what happened:

10 Youth Volunteers showed up at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning at an early childhood daycare center. The group’s assignment was to work with the children enrolled in a summer camp program, so they were expecting to play with a large group of children. However, the group was surprised to find that only four kids showed up for the camp. The organization also didn’t have any activities planned for these kids.

Luckily, YVC makes sure that trained superheroes (aka YVC Team Leaders) are on every project. In this case, two superheroes were on the scene to make sure that the 10 YVC Youth Volunteers had a transformative volunteer experience. Chelsea and Clara immediately took the reins and began creating activities for the YVC volunteers and the kids.

They rescued that first day by playing “every childhood game imaginable” (Clara’s words), and they all had a blast. At the end of that day, the daycare staff told the YVC group and kids that they’d be going to a small water park the next day. The YVC volunteers were just as thrilled as the kids.

The next day, everyone arrived wearing their bathing suits, carrying a beach towel and excited to go to the water park. When they arrived at the water park, it was closed. The superheroes knew how disappointed the kids would be, so they made the best of it and created their own water fun outside the daycare center. The group played with water balloons and had a great time splashing and getting soaked.

Chelsea and Clara also took advantage of the lack of programming to let the YVC youth serve as leaders and form a program for the kids the rest of the week. Instead of just serving as playmates, they were able to serve as teachers and camp counselors by planning and leading all the activities.

They led an art day and created some artwork of their own, and the YVC volunteers also led the daycare kids in a service project: they assembled craft kits for children who are in the hospital.

The YVC Youth Volunteers were so sad when the final day arrived. They had to say goodbye to their new younger friends, and they were already requesting another YVC project at this daycare. Because of the superhero feats of the YVC Team Leaders, the Youth Volunteers had no idea that this project didn’t go as originally planned.

Imagine if these youth had signed up to volunteer in this situation and the YVC Team Leaders weren’t there to keep things organized. It’s likely the entire project would have been cancelled. No one would have had a transformative service experience, and those new friendships wouldn’t have been formed. Instead, four kids had the most awesome week meeting cool older youth and having a blast together, and 10 youth have life-long memories of how they can make a difference in a child’s life.

Thank you to all the YVC Team Leaders who serve as everyday superheroes to make sure that every YVC project—no matter what happens—is a positive experience for youth that hopefully encourages them to keep serving time and time again.*


A huge thanks to Clara Hernandez, a Bank of America Student Leader with YVC of Greater Kansas City, for telling her story!

*And these superheroes really must have superpowers because 96% of youth who volunteer with YVC say they’ll volunteer again in the future.

Your Turn to Make a Difference

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Are you ready to change the world? Volunteer with YVC and you’ll do just that. Don’t believe us? These Youth Volunteers share how YVC has helped them change their corner of the world:

Youth Volunteer Corps, 1025 Jefferson St., Kansas City, MO 64105

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