Monthly Archives: April 2015

8 Tips for Hosting Youth Volunteers

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Tips for Working with Youth Volunteers


Youth Volunteers can be a great way to boost energy at an organization—and get a lot done. Especially for small nonprofits with limited resources, youth can provide enthusiasm and excitement while contributing in a large way to the organization’s mission. But it’s not just the agency that benefits with Youth Volunteers—the youth also win by learning new skills, meeting new people, and of course earning those all-important volunteer hours that are now essential for college or job applications.

Has your organization been hesitant to offer youth volunteer opportunities? It will be a win-win situation for both you and the volunteers if you keep these eight tips in mind:

1. First Impression

It’s very likely that this experience may be the first time that a youth volunteers. Keep that in mind when selecting a project and relating to the volunteer. Nothing is worse than a poor initial exposure to volunteerism for a Youth Volunteer.

2. Meaningful Work

A meaningful task is the most important aspect of a youth volunteer project. Limit clerical or fundraising projects to a minimum, and try to focus on projects where volunteers can truly see the impact of their work. The most popular projects usually include client-based work since youth appreciate being able to get to know the people or animals they’re helping.

3. Explain the Purpose

Trash cleanupMake sure youth understand the purpose of the activity. Sometimes the most urgent volunteer need can be a mundane task (i.e. preparing litter boxes at an animal shelter). This can be a meaningful activity if you explain well the importance of the task. For example, explain how many litter boxes the shelter uses in a day and how many cats that helps. This helps the youth see that it’s an important task, even if it isn’t the most exciting.

4. Train on New Skills

With youth unemployment still high, volunteering is a great way for youth to gain job skills. Talk with individual Youth Volunteers to see what skills they would like to gain from their volunteer experience, and provide opportunities for them to learn.

5. Capitalize on Strengths

On the flipside, take advantage of skills that youth already have. Youth are the most tapped into social networking, so they can be a great resource if you’re looking to expand your social media presence. Agencies can also benefit from taking time to understand the youth perspective and connecting that into their programming.

6. Offer Structure

Make sure to organize youth projects with a lot of structure. Bored Youth Volunteers can lead to problems for everyone. Very often at YVC we find that our agency partners underestimate the amount of work a group of dedicated Youth Volunteers can accomplish. Setting high expectations and making a detailed schedule with plenty of extra tasks can solve this problem.

7. Think Ahead

Be prepared with materials and space. Unlike adult volunteers who may be happy to go home early from a project if the job is done or weather interrupts an outdoor project, youth often need to tell their parents or guardians exactly when they will be done so they can be picked up. Try to have a back-up idea in case anything in your plan changes or goes wrong so that these youth have something to do until the official project end.

8. Share Your Passion

Remember what a win-win situation it is to have Youth Volunteers at your agency! Not only do they bring energy and enthusiasm, but you could be creating a lifetime ally for your organization. We’ve had many Youth Volunteers choose to enter the nonprofit field or focus on an area like education or social work because of their initial volunteer experience.

Ready to jump into youth volunteerism? Find a YVC near you and schedule a project!

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Youth Service Project Idea: Park Cleanup

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Park Cleanup

No matter where you live, whether in a city or rural area, near the coast or the middle of the country, there’s surely an area that could use a little sprucing up. Join up with some friends and take a couple hours to transform a public area to restore its natural beauty for community members to enjoy it.

Here’s how:

Celebration of Service - HQ and YVCKC 9.22.12 (27)1. Pick a local park, beach or public area in need of a cleanup and talk with the Parks Department or other authority that oversees the area to let them know you’re interested in doing a cleanup. They’ll probably give you information on the area and often even give supplies like trash bags and gloves.

2. The day of the project, make sure to take a photo of the area before you begin your transformation so that you can see the impact you made!

3. Equip your team with trash bags and gloves.

4. Turn your cleanup into a fun competition by telling the team to take a picture of the most interesting items they find. Brainstorm a few categories like: Largest item, Most Colorful Item, Most Random Item, etc.

5. Send teams out in groups of two or three since service is more fun with others!

6. Gather back together after the project and compare photos of your most interesting items, then vote on a winner for each category.

7. Don’t forget to also take an “after” photo to see how much you transformed the space in just a couple hours of service!

8. Take a few minutes at the end of the project to enjoy the public area you just transformed. Bring a few frisbees or play a few teambuilder games in the newly cleaned spot.

Looking for more service project ideas? Read about last month’s project idea: Scavenger Hunt Food Drive, and stay updated on this monthly series by signing up for our newsletter:

10 Ways to Thank Youth Volunteers

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How to Thank Youth Volunteers

In honor of National Volunteer Week, we’ve come up with ten ways to thank Youth Volunteers for the awesome work they’re doing:

1. Buy some 100-Grand candy bars and make notes that say “You’re worth $100 bucks!” Keep these with you on projects and give them out to youth who went above and beyond that day.

2. Ask a local business like a movie theater or ice cream shop to donate small ($5-$10) gift cards to give to youth who stood above the rest.

3. Host an annual recognition event where youth can invite their families and receive certificates (Youth Volunteer Corps Affiliates can order ready-made certificates through the YVC Store) for the number of hours they completed. You can even brainstorm some larger awards like Volunteer of the Year to give to the most outstanding youth.

4. Make sure to nominate them for YVC’s Milestone Awards. Each fall we give out the 100-in-1 Award (for youth who have served 100+ hours in a single year), the Ethic of Service Award (for youth who have served 500+ hours with YVC in their careers) and the World-Changer Award (for youth who have served 1,000+ hours with YVC in their careers).

5. Invite the media to a press conference to recognize your top volunteers.

6. Offer leadership opportunities for the top volunteers like a Youth Advisory Board or Junior Team Leader position.

7. Once a year send a letter to the principals of the local schools your Youth Volunteers attend notifying them of all the inspiring youth who volunteered that year.

8. Call or email a volunteer’s parents to let them know when their child went above and beyond and served as an example for the other volunteers.

9. Email Youth Volunteers to say thank you following the project and include a group photo from the event.

10. Just say thank you! Make sure to thank volunteers when they sign up for a project, during the project and after the project.

Interested in more tips about running a youth service program? Learn more about launching a program here.

Parks and Recreation + Youth Service

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4.16.15 5 Reasons Parks and Rec Should Launch a YVC

Are you looking to diversify your Parks programming? Do you find that your programming lacks engaging options for teens? Do you need more volunteers to help beautify your parks? Launching a youth service program is a great way to fill those needs and others.

The National Recreation and Park Association published an article recently in their magazine outlining a few of the benefits to Parks and Recreation departments hosting youth service programs. We love to hear about those benefits, plus we have five other reasons we think your program could benefit from incorporating youth service:

1. Opportunities for Youth:

Running a youth service program creates an opportunity for youth who may not be interested in sports or other common programs without requiring a large staff, purchase of curriculum or expensive equipment.

2. Skill-Building:

Service teaches youth how to plan projects, arrive on time, work towards a goal and fine-tune strategies through reflection, service-learning activities and experiential work in the field. Studies show that these processes prepare youth (and their resumes) for higher education, the local workforce and life as engaged adult citizens and voters.

3. Help Your Parks:

What could your department get done with a group of trained, passionate youth volunteers? Although youth service groups should work on all kinds of projects throughout their community, one of those projects can be volunteering at parks. Whether you need extra hands to line up entries in a parade, plant butterfly bushes at the park, monitor geo-caches or just pick up trash in a parking lot, you can count on an organized team of youth volunteers to turn up and get it done. Service projects helping parks are a great component to a well-rounded youth service program including serving both public agencies and private nonprofits.

4. Increased Eligibility for Funding:

Your department and city also become eligible for grants and additional funding streams such as programming dollars for providing youth leadership opportunities and workforce development.

5. Fill a Need:

Many students are required to complete service hours either from outside organizations like National Honor Society, Key Club and church groups or from school graduation requirements. Capitalize on this need by offering a youth service program through Parks and Recreation to turn volunteers into lifelong parks supporters.

Ready to learn more?

Partnering with Youth Volunteer Corps makes it easy to launch a youth service program in your community. We have nearly 30 years of experience creating high-quality youth service opportunities in communities ranging from rural to urban across North America. We would love to talk with you about what a youth service program could look like in your community. Email Taylor today to learn more.

Youth Volunteer Makes Service Meaningful

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Josh Graf - Love Inc

Josh (second from left) with his team serving at Love Inc.

When Josh’s mom brought home a brochure about Youth Volunteer Corps of Racine, WI, he didn’t know if he was interested.

“Honestly, at first I wasn’t sure if volunteering was the thing for me, but it kind of sounded interesting,” Josh says. “I thought I’d give it a try and see if I liked it, and I found out I love volunteering. What I was doing was really making a difference in the people’s lives around me.”

He and his sister chose to volunteer with YVC of Racine that summer at Love Incorporated, a local social services organization, and he found a new passion helping others. Josh had volunteered some before at a few community events and was a member of his Key Club.

“Volunteering with YVC was so much more meaningful than what I did before,” he says. “I wasn’t seeing who I was helping in other volunteer opportunities, but with YVC I did.”

Making Service Matter

Once he saw the impact he could have as a volunteer while serving with YVC of Racine, he quickly got more involved and even looked for ways to get other youth involved. After a great first summer with YVC of Racine, he returned to his Key Club that fall excited to keep that spirit of service alive at his school.

Josh Graf - Racine 2_croppedHis favorite aspect of volunteering with YVC is that projects are always team-based, meaning he gets to know the other youth he is serving with and connects with his Team Leaders. He wanted to bring this team-based component back to his Key Club to make sure those projects were always meaningful and fun too.

“I wanted to bring the aspects that YVC showed me volunteering is all about to my Key Club,” Josh says. “I have tried to make our Key Club events team-based to bring more sense of community to the organization like we have with YVC.”

Recruiting More Volunteers

Josh has served as Key Club President for the last year, so he has connected with many organizations for students to help out with and ensured that volunteers got connected to events. He set up a system for students to sign up for events and log their hours online. He recruited a total of 332 volunteers for Key Club with the help of his fellow officers.

He also consistently advertises for YVC projects to his Key Club so that students can get involved in volunteering beyond the Key Club, providing a steady stream of new volunteers to YVC of Racine.

As he prepares to graduate and trains the Key Club’s new group of officers, he’s ensured that they will continue the partnerships he’s established, especially with YVC of Racine.

Volunteering Beyond High School

Josh Graf - RacineJosh plans to continue his passion for volunteering in college and beyond, starting by serving as a Team Leader with YVC of Racine this summer. He was able to write about his volunteer experiences for college applications and scholarship essays, which he thinks helped make him a better candidate. He wasn’t denied to any colleges he applied to—even a couple reach schools—so he thinks it worked!

He also plans to keep spreading the word and encouraging others to volunteer. His advice to other youth: “Volunteer with a friend. I know I was very nervous to go volunteer by myself, but I did it.” He actually ended up knowing someone else at that first project, which helped him feel more comfortable.

“Once you break that barrier and see what it can be, it’s so much easier the second time,” Josh says. “It shouldn’t be scary, and if you can do that with a friend, you’ll feel that much more comfortable going again.”

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Spotlight on: YVC of Racine

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Racine Spotlight


Youth Volunteer Corps programs look a little different in every community they’re in. The most successful programs use the resources on hand and specific to their host to create collaborations and connect the most youth possible to meaningful service.

For our Spotlight this month, we’re headed to Racine, WI, to learn about their YVC program and see how they have built a transformative youth service program by capitalizing on their strengths.

Often one of the biggest challenges to running a youth service program is securing the staff to plan and supervise projects. Since YVC of Racine is hosted by the Volunteer Center of Racine County, they have direct access to community members interested in volunteering.

“If they mention the word youth, they get directed to me,” says Michelle Ortwein, Program Director of YVC of Racine.

Michelle talks with adults interested in working with youth and helps decipher whether they would be interested in helping to supervise YVC projects and discusses what time commitment they are able to make. She does everything she can to make it a positive experience for both the volunteer and YVC.

“My first instinct is to say yes then see if I can figure it out to make it work,” she says.

Racine County - Summer 2014 - Eco Justice Center

Customizing Volunteer Opportunities

This means she’s worked with volunteers from all walks of life on various levels of commitment—all interested in empowering youth to serve their communities.

A college student who was living in Racine for the summer was interested in getting some real-world experience relevant to her psychology degree and helped develop a new YVC project working with people with mental health issues. A mom who was interested in getting her kids involved added extra supervision for projects they served on. A new Racine resident interested in getting involved in the community and working with youth helped lead one of their most popular summer projects.

Michelle works with each potential volunteer to see how they would fit best and also ensures that they have adequate training. She sends adult volunteers as support to trained YVC Team Leaders, but she still makes sure that they have as much training as possible, including meeting with the agency before a project and being aware of best practices to leading a project.

New Ideas Produce Creative Projects

Creatively strategizing ways to use adult volunteers to help lead projects not only helps YVC of Racine offer more projects than they otherwise would be able to, they have seen other benefits from having new leaders involved in their program.

Enrique was new to the area and interested in volunteering with youth, so he connected with YVC of Racine. He ended up leading a project at the Eco-Justice Center, the most popular summer project. The team spent the week helping at the urban farm, caring for all kinds of animals from ducks to alpaca and cultivating the community gardens. When their plans got rained out one afternoon, Enrique led the youth in a brainstorming discussion to think about what else they could do to help the Eco-Justice Center.

The group decided that one thing that would make the center even better would be a treehouse. Enrique and the youth spent the afternoon designing the treehouse, then presented the idea to the center’s leadership. The organization loved the idea and decided to take action. Next summer when YVC of Racine was back at the center, the treehouse—just like they had designed—had been built.

Racine County - tree house

Helping Volunteers Develop Job Skills

When adult volunteers help out with the YVC program, they in turn are able to offer these skill-building volunteer opportunities for youth to make a difference while building their resumes.

“A lot of students are finding volunteer work essential for jobs and resume skills,” Michelle says. “Those little jobs that kids used to get in our communities are hard to find now.”

With even more youth needing volunteer hours to help build these skills and prepare them for the future, YVC of Racine will depend even more on adult volunteers willing to give of their time to empower the next generation to make a difference.

Ready to tour some other YVC programs? Check out our previous Spotlights on St. GeorgeWestern Connecticut, Alpena, Anderson County, Ann Arbor, and Corvallis.

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Congratulations Gold Level YVC Affiliates!

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We know that Youth Volunteer Corps programs all over the U.S. and Canada are changing youth’s lives through volunteering every day. Some of these programs stand out as examples for the rest of the YVC Network to follow in the way that their programs engage youth in service.

Each year, YVC Headquarters evaluates Affiliates to discuss together how they can better serve their communities. A few of these Affiliates are going above and beyond and leading the way for the entire YVC network, and they’ve earned the Gold Level rating.

Congratulations to the following 2014 Gold Level Affiliates:


Alpena, MI

Congratulations Alpena


Anderson, SC

Congratulations Anderson


Ann Arbor, MI

Congratulations Ann Arbor



Congratulations Calgary


Corvallis, OR

Congratulations Corvallis


Hampton Roads, VA

Congratulations Hampton Roads


Kansas City

Congratulations Kansas City



Muskogee, OK

Congratulations Muskogee



Congratulations Nashville

YVC Launches in Farmington Hills, MI

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New youth service program in Farmington Hills


Join us in welcoming Farmington Hills to the Youth Volunteer Corps family! Farmington Hills, hosted by Farmington Family YMCA, joins two other Detroit-area YVC programs: Plymouth and Ann Arbor.

Farmington Hills is one of five YVC programs in Michigan, a state with a rich history of YVC that currently hosts more YVCs than any other state.

A huge thanks to Abbey with YVC of Ann Arbor who helped facilitate the connection with YVC and Farmington Family YMCA!

YVC of Farmington Hills will be recruiting for their first projects within the next few months.

Be the first to hear about YVCs launching in new communities!

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

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