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Alumni Spotlight: Alexander Smith

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Alexander Smith, YVC of Kansas City alumnus

Alexander Smith served with YVC of Kansas City from 2019-2014. He is currently a senior at New York University studying History and Communication. We caught up with Alexander and asked him a few questions on how volunteering with Youth Volunteer Corps has shaped his life.

What is one of your favorite memories as a member of YVC?

“Attending the YVC Summit in Kansas City was a wonderful experience. I had the unique opportunity to connect with members of the Youth Advisory Board, listen to incredible panelists, and meet volunteers from across the country. The summit reinforced my passion for service, while simultaneously highlighting the dedication and fortitude of young volunteers. To this day, I still stay in touch with summit participants, fellow YVCKC volunteers, and members of the Kansas City advisory board.”

How did being a member of YVC affect your life/career path?

“YVC helped catalyze my passion for public service and civic engagement. Now a senior at NYU, I feel these passions have been emulated in my person, professional, and academic endeavors.”

What is one of your biggest life events from the past 5 years?

“I interned at the Obama White House in the Spring of 2016. I worked full-time and had the opportunity to meet First Lady Michelle Obama, Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Vice President Joe Biden, and President Barack Obama during my internship. It was an incredible experience and remarkable to work alongside talented staffers and managers.”

What’s a unique fact about you that people don’t know?

“I have a twin sister (who also did YVC with me)!”

Is there anything you want YVC alumni to know about you now?

“It has been wonderful to stay in touch with YVCKC volunteers and see what projects everyone is working on! It’s incredibly motivating and reassuring to know YVC alumni are pursuing their passion.”

Thank you to Alexander for taking the time to speak with us and share more about his life and how YVC has helped him find his path. 

Did YVC make an impact on your life? We want to connect with you! Sign up for our Alumni Network to connect with other alumni and share your story.

Serving Veterans by serving Honey Bees

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The Golden Prairie Honey Farms (GPHF) is an inspirational and supportive organization located in Manhattan, KS, and I had the opportunity to serve with them earlier this month.

As a part of the SAVE (Servicemember Agricultural Vocation Education) Program, the Golden Prairie Honey Farms helps to transition service members and veterans by providing jobs that are sensitive to their needs.  Some veterans struggle with PTSD and have problems finding stable employment due to high sensitivity to sudden or repetitive loud noises, and/or stressful situations.  GPHF gives these veterans a peaceful environment where they can work without the fear of being rejected or discarded and provides a constructive outlet and helps them to cope with their anxiety while learning new skills as they begin a new stage of their lives.

I was in a group of nine youth volunteers with Youth Volunteer Corps of Manhattan, hosted by the Flint Hills Volunteer Center.  Our task for the project was to create wooden toolboxes made from a handle piece, a base piece, two side pieces, and two wall pieces.  These toolboxes are very similar to the ones that the GPHF staff and veterans use to work on the honey bee enclosures.

We had three stations to go through in the process of creating these toolboxes.  At the first station, we made the walls and side pieces of the toolbox by using a circular saw. At the next station, we used a router to smooth and round the handle. Finally, at the third station, we assembled our toolboxes using glue and a staple gun.

 

With my experience with the Golden Prairie Honey Farms, I have come to a greater understanding of veterans and their problems outside of the military.  It is sad to know that veterans, having done so much for our country, are being cast aside after giving up most of their young lives to the safety of our nation.  With this in mind, the GPHF has become a beacon of hope and inspiration for those veterans who wish to reenter the workforce.  The current veterans working at the GPHF are very encouraging people.  They have shown true triumph in the stories that they told us during our visit.  They deeply care about the lives of the people who leave the military, having gone through tough situations themselves.

I have a father who just retired from the U.S. Army, so I know the feeling of being terrified every time he leaves for deployment.  Questions such as, “Is he going to come back? Will he be the same? Will I even recognize him?” burst into my mind every time he left.  However, I always had hope that he would come home safely.  This is what the Golden Prairie Honey Farms stands for, hope.  The GPHF exudes hope from every aspect pertaining to it.

For this very reason, I decided to volunteer at the GPHF the very next day.  I volunteered for about three hours and helped create frames for beehives.  I started by using two lengthwise pieces and two widthwise pieces.  I used a couple of jigs, glue and screws to assemble them. Overall, I made five beehive frames for the GPHF.

The nicest part, while I was volunteering, was the staff’s courtesy. I felt at peace in the GPHF and I am continuing to volunteer there to give any help I can to the people who help our veterans return to normal lives.  The Golden Prairie Honey Farms is without a doubt an awe-inspiring opportunity to give back to those who sacrifice so much in order for us to live happy and carefree lives.  My appreciation and respect for the Golden Prairie Honey Farms reaches no limit, as well as the care and passion the Golden Prairie Honey Farms shows our veterans.

 

This guest blog post was submitted by Matthew Delashmit, a youth volunteer with of YVC of Manhattan.

 

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YVC Cornerstone Grant Winners

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With great excitement, YVC is thrilled to announce the YVC Cornerstone Grant winners!

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a foundation, determining the future and stability of the entire structure. The aim of this grant funding is to provide affiliates a “cornerstone” to build upon. Cornerstone grantees receive a $20,000 investment in building successful and sustainable programs in their communities that will reach even more youth volunteers than ever. Totaling to $100,000, this is the single largest grant opportunity ever offered by Youth Volunteer Corps to date.  We are thrilled to recognize the following affiliates, each proven leaders in our network and excelling in unique ways.

YVC of Ann Arbor, MI: Program director, Abbey Davis, has a great vision for the program and was named YVC Ambassador of the Year at Summit 2017. YVC of Ann Arbor is hosted by the YMCA and has been apart of the YVC Network for many years. Ann Arbor leads the network in social justice and service learning, always engaging youth volunteers in quality, intentional discussion and reflection. YVC of Ann Arbor consistently prioritizes strong youth engagement and leadership.

YVC of Charleston, SC: This year, YVC of Charleston had a 71% increase in number of projects and 42% increase in total hours served, and this growth shows how popular the program has become! Program Director, Jennifer Gorham, was awarded YVC Program Director of the year at Summit 2017. While YVC of Charleston has only been part of the YVC family since 2015, the program sets a great example for the entire network, receiving positive media attention and building solid connections in the community. YVC of Charleston will be the host of Summit 2018!

YVC of Danbury, CT: YVC of Danbury was recognized as the Affiliate of the Year at the 2017 Summit – another strong example of excellence in the YVC Network.  The Youth Advisory Board (YAB) helps lead ice breakers, team builders, call agencies and prep projects. Four YVC of Danbury youth volunteers were recognized for their contribution to the community by being nominated by the United Way as Emerging Heroes.

YVC of Des Moines, IA: This year, YVC of Des Moines had an 88% increase in projects which resulted in a 136% increase in total volunteer hours. They were recognized for winning the Project of the Year award at Summit 2017. Service learning is highly valued at YVC of Des Moines which makes their projects top notch. YVC of Des Moines stays creative in their recruitment efforts and even allows youth to sign up for projects via Snapchat.

YVC of Reading, PA: YVC of Reading was recognized as the New Affiliate of the Year at the 2017 Summit. They are a young program in the YVC network but have wasted no time in executing high level programming. Much of Reading’s programming is offered in-school and after-school and with an eye toward expanding the number of weekend projects offered.

The impact of the Cornerstone Grant will reach well beyond these five communities. The aim of this investment is to increase the total number of youth volunteers, service hours and construction-related service projects across our entire network.

According to Forbes Magazine, “For the last three years, the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses or engineers or even web developers. It’s been the skilled trades – the welders, electricians, machinists, etc. that are so prevalent in manufacturing and construction.” Undoubtedly, interest in the construction industry will grow among youth volunteers participating on these projects across North America. YVC programs across the network are creating opportunities and experiences that impact both community members and youth volunteers alike. This unique and exciting opportunity allows YVC youth volunteers to address community needs and to inspire youth for a lifetime commitment to service! Congratulations to each of our Cornerstone Grant winners. We are proud of you!

This funding opportunity was made possible by the Sunderland Foundation.

 

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Volunteers honored as “Emerging Heroes”

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From left: Avery Putnam, Lucia Gorman, Morgan Greening, Kendra Dascano, Alexandra Schulman

The United Way of Western Connecticut (UWWCT) hosted their 4th Annual Hometown Heroes Benefit Dinner on Saturday, December 2nd. This event celebrates those in the community who lead by example, give back to others and demonstrate a strong commitment to making an impact on the lives of others. Each honoree was nominated by someone in their community and then reviewed against other exceptional people in their town. The following criteria are taken into consideration in selecting an honoree:

  • Achievement – the nominee’s actual accomplishment produced significant results
  • Action – the involvement of the nominee is active and hands-on
  • Caring – as demonstrated by the nominee’s interaction with others
  • Commitment – the nominee has a sincere belief in their community
  • Impact – the nominee’s activity or program produced positive changes, provided examples for other groups
  • Initiative – the nominee recognizes a need in their local community and initiates new programs or activities to meet that need
  • Leadership – the nominee demonstrates singular leadership to contribute to their community
  • Time – the nominee dedicates considerable time and energy to making a difference in their community

Youth Volunteer Corps of Danbury was honored to have four out of the total nine youth receive the Emerging Hero Award this year. The Emerging Hero Award was new to the event and was awarded to high school-aged youth who demonstrate strong leadership in volunteerism and community service.

“We are thrilled to include a new category of award for youth volunteers who have made service to others a priority and distinguished themselves by making a positive impact in their community,” said UWWCT CEO, Kim Morgan.

UWWCT named four Emerging Heroes from YVC of Danbury. They are; Alexandra Schulman, Avery Putnam, Kendra Dascano and Lucia Gorman.

“These four young ladies are truly exceptional,” said Morgan Greening, YVC of Danbury program director. “They have each served on our Youth Advisory Board and they have shown they are true role models at every YVC project they participate in through hard work, compassion and leadership. We are incredibly proud of them and can’t wait to see what the accomplish next.”

When asked why these young women volunteer and why they believe volunteerism is important, they responded as follows:

Lucia Gorman, left

“One of the reasons I volunteer is to make connections outside of my small school and my small, rural town. Connections with new friends who have the same volunteer spirit as me. Connections with the individuals, families and groups that can benefit from the resources of time and energy that teenagers can give. And connections with the non-profit organizations that have made service their mission. Volunteering is important to the community because it reminds us how fortunate we are that we can give help and hope to others. For those who are receiving aid, it lets them know that they are not alone. It also shows how we are strong when we work together.” – Lucia Gorman

 

 

 

Kendra Dascano

“Helping people in my community is a way for me to give back to society and is also a positive way to channel my love and compassion for others. One of the best aspects of volunteering is knowing that I am involved in something that is bigger than myself and that I am making a difference in my community. Engaging myself in my community has given me a sense of happiness and reward, and I know that it is something that I will always be part of. I think it is always important to be kind to others because you never know what someone might be going through. A simple smile can brighten someone’s day. Volunteering at organizations that help the homeless, elderly, and children has not only allowed me to understand different groups of people and their needs but also bring about change. There are so many causes in need of our help and I would encourage anyone to give even a few hours of their time to benefit their community.” -Kendra Dascano

 

Avery Putnam

“I volunteer to meet new people while simultaneously making a difference and being productive. I feel that volunteering has given me the opportunity to better myself as well as my community, and I love improving the lives of other people. I personally value kindness and compassion above all other traits in my life. I have made countless friends through my volunteer work, some of which I consider to be my best friends. I not only volunteer for the people that have fewer opportunities than myself, but I also volunteer to give me opportunities to expand my horizons and grow as an individual. Volunteer work creates tolerance and peace within a community, and it educates everyone involved. If the volunteer work is interpersonal, both the volunteer and the recipient are able to learn about each other and develop a relationship. Any person who is impacted by an act of volunteerism has the opportunity to grow and become more tolerant. A greater prevalence of volunteer work in the world will ultimately lead to a happier, more positive idea of humanity!” -Avery Putnam

 

 

Alexandra Schulman

“I volunteer because I enjoy helping other people and the community. Volunteers are a critical asset to a community to help it thrive. I know that when I serve, whether during a large project or a small, one-on-one interaction with some less fortunate than my self, I am changing someone’s life for the better. I’m happy to know that I have the ability to make a difference in the lives of others and that through my work I bring about a positive change. It’s not always an immediate change but little by little, volunteers are making a better world.” -Alexandra Schulman

 

 

 

To read more about these honorees and to see pictures and videos, click here!

 

 

This guest blog post was submitted by Morgan Greening, program director of YVC of Danbury.

YVC of Danbury was awarded the 2017 Affiliate of the Year award in recognition of their exceptional youth service program. 

 

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A Better Way: Tackling the Opioid Crisis head-on

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In St. Joseph, Missouri, my YVC program is working to solve the problem of safe opioid and narcotic disposal.

Many businesses and community members do not properly dispose of medications in a way that is safe for the environment and wildlife. The most common ways of disposing of medications are flushing them down the toilet, throwing them directly into the trash, or mixing with cat litter and water before they are taken to a landfill. These methods make the medications technically disposed of, but not deactivated, which allows them to potentially seep into groundwater, streams and ponds through water runoff. This contaminated water can have a devastating effect on area ecosystems.

With a grant of $4,000, YVC of St. Joseph ordered 1,100 Deterra Bags and designed a service project to educate local businesses on how to safely dispose of unused medication. Dettera Bags are plastic bags with activated charcoal that, once mixed with warm water, adsorbs and deactivates harmful chemicals in opioids and narcotics making them safe for disposal. Each bag can hold 15 pills and can easily be unsealed and resealed so you can add pills as needed. If the bag dries out, simply add more water.

We made connections with area pharmacies and hospice centers where we distributed our Deterra Bags and information on how to use them. We gave 100 Deterra Bags to our largest hospice center and our local news station did a news story on our project to help educate our community. We also created flyers addressing how to properly dispose of medications and those are now handed out with every opioid or narcotic prescription filled at local pharmacies.

To make it as easy as possible for St. Joseph residents to properly dispose of medications, we host a “Prescription take back” twice a year. Community members are encouraged to drop-off old, un-needed medication and we safely dispose of it in an incinerator.

I’ve seen real progress in St. Joseph as businesses and community members take more responsibility and become more active in the safe disposal of unused medication. They may seem small but these left-over pills can have a terrible impact on our environment and I’m happy to have helped bring about a change for the better in my community.

 

 

This guest blog post was submitted by Leah Craig.

Leah Craig is a sophomore in high school and volunteers with YVC of St. Joseph. She serves as a member on YVC’s International Youth Advisory Board.

 

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Seeing Your Impact in Real Time

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In my opinion, YVC strikes a chord with me when I’m able to see, in real time, the effect that my service is making for the people that I’m helping. I love seeing others smile, and while I graciously accept the thanks, I’m more proud that I was able to provide them with something they didn’t have before, just by donating a few minutes of my time. I would love to coin this type of service as “Tactile Service.”

A form of tactile service I participated in for YVC of Philadelphia was the Honey Festival in September of 2016. Every year, Bartram’s Gardens, a huge plant conservatory located in the heart of the city, invites members of the community to participate in activities and events centered around beekeeping, bee conservation, pollination and honey farming. It gives a spotlight to Philadelphia’s local small businesses and contributes to Philadelphia’s sense of unity.

When I arrived at the event, I helped with introductions, which entailed handing out fliers and welcoming guests to Bartram’s. There were many people from diverse age ranges, and I noticed that many of the smaller kids were eager to join in the festivities. Many were excited about the parade, while others were just happy to have a free apple provided by Whole Foods. Either way, it was great to see that kids were responding so positively to the event.

I swapped jobs with a few other students and worked with my fellow YVC of Philadelphia member, Winnie, to create bee costumes for kids. It was in these moments that I realized how expansive the kids section of the event was. It was located on a luscious green hill, unobstructed by foliage or any artificial structures. Despite its small size, it was the closest thing to a plain I’ve seen in the city and very well kept.

Kids would line up to our small section to create their own bee costumes. I was tasked with twisting together pipe cleaners to make bee antennae while Winnie fashioned together some wings out of cloth. It was a blast, and many of the kids, ages three to six, thanked us for their new costumes. It was one of the first times that I had the chance to see the impact I made on a group of people in real time. The joy present on both the kids and parents faces felt genuine and it was something that I know I directly affected.

That one day of “Tactile Service” is something that I will never forget, and it’s just one of many memories that I hold from Youth Volunteer Corps.

 

 

This guest blog post was submitted by Dante Diggs.

Dante Diggs is a senior in high school and volunteers with YVC of Philadelphia. He serves as a member on YVC’s International Youth Advisory Board.

 

 

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Alumni Spotlight: Ariel Green

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Ariel Green, YVC of Baton Rouge alumna.

Ariel Green served with YVC of Baton Rouge from 2012-2013. She is currently a senior at Southeastern Louisiana University majoring in Social Work with a minor in Management. We caught up with Ariel and asked her a few questions on how volunteering with Youth Volunteer Corps has shaped her life.

What is one of your favorite memories as a member of YVC?

“My favorite memories as a member of YVC were distributing holiday care packages to individuals in the service and meeting new people. Giving out care packages was a humbling experience. It made me better appreciate the work of our soldiers, my necessities and spending time with family and friends. Before this event, I did not realize the extent of military duty, their need for supplies, and the time required away from others. From start to finish the packages were packed with thought and love.

Meeting new people can be a challenge to many. There are many uncertainties and possible downfalls that can take place when forming a new relationship with someone. When I wanted to meet friends at YVC I learned if I would just be myself I would attract the right people. At YVC I met kind, happy, and genuine people. Many workers of the organization were great leaders and examples to the youth. Since stepping out of my conform zone, I have met all kinds of people from different walks of life. This is a great memory because as a member of YVC, I learned no matter what age, ability, or race a person was, we all had the same heart and mission in mind which was to serve.”

How did being a member of YVC affect your life/career path?

“Being a member of YVC has affected my life in a positive way. I am so grateful my mom decided to sign me and my sister up to be a part of this organization. Volunteering at a young age has taught me the importance of giving back and serving others. It has also led me to other great volunteer opportunities. As far as my career path goes, I believe I was led because of my faith, time with this organization, and the influence other people had in my life.  I am currently a senior at Southeastern Louisiana University majoring in Social Work with a minor in Management.”

What is one of your biggest life events from the past 5 years?

“One of my biggest life events over the past 5 years was a change in relationships and acceptance of friends. Many times in life we do not realize that the people we choose to walk with play a major part in our future. For many years I struggled with letting go of peers who no longer added value to my life. I would get so attached to their good company [that] I missed how their friendship did not measure up to mine. Outgrowing people has left me alone many times. During this time I learned that I was being protected from relationships that kept me still and from moving forward. I realized what a true friend was and that people from my past could not go with me to my destiny. I am now blessed with motivated, growing, loving, and true friends. Many of them today have more to offer than the people I left behind like wisdom and truths.”

What’s a unique fact about you that people don’t know?

“One unique fact about me that many people do not know is I can sing. I love to sing around the house and in the car. Growing up I was involved in the youth choir and sang in the young adult choir with my mother. I love music and I desire to be a better singer/soloist. In the future, I wish to continue at singing and perfect my gift.”

Is there anything you want YVC alumni to know about you now?

“I aspire to change the world and minds of many for the better by showing them a new perspective on life. ”

Thank you to Ariel for taking the time to speak with us and share more about her life and how YVC has helped her find her path. 

Did YVC make an impact on your life? We want to connect with you! Sign up for our Alumni Network to connect with other alumni and share your story.

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The Reason for the Season: Service During the Holidays

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After grabbing a sign to hold up next to a bag of food, I was skeptical that anyone in the supermarket would actually contribute their money to the food drive going on next door. As YVC volunteers, our goal was to get people shopping in the Farm Fresh, a local grocery store in Hampton, VA, to buy a ‘Mayflower Food Drive’ bag filled with food, or to simply donate food or money to the cause. We would then transport these premade donation bags to the food drive going on next-door in an open parking lot via shopping cart.

As more people passed by and declined our request to donate, I grew weary that the project was a flop. However, to my surprise, slowly but surely, people began to stop in their path to ask about our project. Strangers would read our signs, ask about our mission, and then donate from the kindness of their hearts.

Although this may seem like an extremely simple project, the profound impact it had on me as a volunteer has changed the way I serve. In awe, I saw Hampton, an area split by many different social demographics, come together to make a collective donation in this Farm Fresh. People united for one common goal: help those on the Hampton Roads Peninsula who did not have enough money to afford a Thanksgiving dinner.

I have come to the conclusion that service during the holidays benefits different groups of people, but moreover unites a community for a common goal. May it be helping the elderly with Christmas crafts, serving dinner to a group of people suffering from homelessness, or participating in holiday gift wrapping for disadvantaged youth, different social, economic, ethnic and political groups can come together to make a change.

I have come to realize, in spite of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, taking an hour or two to serve others makes a real difference, not only in the lives you serve, but also in your own life. Seeing the positive impact that service brings during this time of year puts the real meaning of the holidays back into perspective. As a youth volunteer, this creates a lasting impact and hopefully, these values will be carried on to create a more service-oriented society.

Some may think that asking for donations to support a food drive during the Thanksgiving or Christmas season may be a drag on a Saturday afternoon. But, to others, this is the meaning of the season. The holidays are not about outshining relatives or getting the best gift. They are about service-learning: bringing groups together to learn more about yourself and your community through the gift of giving.

 

 

This guest blog post was submitted by Paula-Ann Robertson.

Paula-Ann is a junior in high school and volunteers with YVC of Hampton Roads. She serves as a member on YVC’s International Youth Advisory Board

 

 

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Rock Solid Projects Youth Volunteer Grant

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YVCHQ is thrilled to announce the winners of its first-ever grant opportunity available exclusively for youth volunteers!

The Rock Solid Projects Youth Volunteer Grant was announced at the 2017 YVC Summit as an opportunity for active youth volunteers to take a leadership role in their program by designing an effective volunteer project for their community and then working to secure funding that would make that project a reality. These youth-created and youth-led projects were also awarded by a youth-led review panel.

Members of YVC’s International Youth Advisory Board reviewed every application submitted and discussed their top selections. While each application had something special, IYAB members chose two to make their projects a reality.

YVC of St. Joseph
Award: $300
Application Summary:
YVC of St. Joseph will tackle hunger and malnutrition with their project, “Produce for People!” Youth volunteers will be involved in every step of this project from building garden beds, growing produce and deciding where to donate their food. IYAB members highlighted YVC of St Joseph’s application for providing a very detailed budget and data to prove the project’s potential impact on their community.

YVC of Cedar City
Award: $200
Application Summary:
YVC of Cedar City will address hunger and nutrition in their community with their project, “Food for Thought: Creating a Peasful community garden.” Fruits and vegetables grown in the garden will be distributed to area food pantries to supplement the produce they can offer to their customers. IYAB members praised the project for using Iron County census data to show a real need for it in their community.

Thank you to all applicants. Please be sure to apply for future funding opportunities!

YVC Launches in St. Louis, MO

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Join us in welcoming St. Louis to the Youth Volunteer Corps family! YVC of ST. Louis is hosted by Mid County YMCA. We’re excited to see our network of affiliates continue to grow are expecting big things from YVC of St. Louis as they begin their program.

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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