‘Fires to be lit’

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Here at YVC, we design youth service projects to ignite a passion in our Youth Volunteers–to get them hooked on volunteering. We plan interactive projects and service-learning to meet each individual volunteer’s needs and interests. A recent TED presentation echos these sentiments and articulates them perfectly.

Peter Benson, president and CEO of Minneapolis-based Search Institute and one of the world’s leading authorities on positive human development, delivered thispresentation on youth development. Here’s an excerpt from his speech, followed by the full presentation:

Most choose to work with our youth from the outside in, filling them with our values, with factoids and expectations. Instead, what if we worked from the inside out? What if we let this person emerge for who he or she is, encouraged their spark, nurtured that?


How do these ideas affect how you interact with youth? And how can we better implement the idea of sparks to engage youth in service?

Back to School with YVC of Western Connecticut

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Today’s blog is a guest post by Samantha Sommerer, Program Coordinator of YVC of Western Connecticut.

On 9/11 the YVC of Western Connecticut, which is hosted by United Way of Western Connecticut, participated in the Taste of Danbury, a two day event where different restaurants sell samples of their food, agencies come out to advocate for their causes and great music is played. In order to combine our participation in the Taste of Danbury with the 9/11 Day of Service, the YVC of Western CT decided to sign pledges to commit to community service hours and write cards to veterans, military families, Military spouses, and soldiers through a program called Operation Honor Cards. Seven Youth Volunteers completed a total of 14 community service hours!

Our YVC also participated in the Back to School Program hosted by the Volunteer Center of the United Way of Western Connecticut. The Back to School Program provided brand new backpacks with school supplies and gift cards to about 300 children in Danbury. The YVC participants truly enjoyed the opportunity to  hand out the new backpacks filled with supplies. The YVC volunteers said seeing the smiles on the kids faces when they got their backpacks was so amazing!

Thanks to Samantha for submitting a guest post! Do you have a story to tell about youth volunteerism? Email Lacey at

A transformative summer of volunteering

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This story was written by a parent of a Youth Volunteer who participated in a YVC summer program this year. To protect her son’s privacy, she has asked to remain anonymous.

I’ve always thought every child has wonderful qualities, each child is different and each child needs to have a way to express their strengths.  This summer my son discovered this for himself while serving with YVC.

The road hasn’t always been easy for him. Our son has anxiety and ADHD, has had trouble socializing with kids his age and tends to get really upset over small things.

We have always found many great things about our son, but he has not seen them in himself.  He is not as athletic as the other kids in the neighborhood, so he will often lose to younger kids in athletic games.  Since this type of play is almost daily, he tends to get down on himself.  This leads to arguing on his part, which makes him feel even worse about himself.  He didn’t have something he felt he was good at doing.

When he started volunteering this summer, he was able to do something that the younger kids were too young to do.  He started acting more mature.  He also showed a work ethic that I have never seen.  I was shocked that he never asked to stay home, even when it was 105 degrees and he was working outside.  In the past, he would have tried every excuse in the book to get out of working, like a migraine, which amazingly he did not have the entire time!

He had a very hard time showing empathy for others in the past.  His therapist said it was common with ADHD and his maturity was slow, so we would just have to teach him empathy over time. That all changed after he served with YVC this summer. He started showing empathy for others and rarely asks for material things now.

Before, he would ask and expect to get things immediately. He would ask for something and say, “It’s only $75!” and not understand why I wouldn’t drop what I was doing and take him to buy it. Now, he may point out something he thinks is nice, but then comment on how expensive it is and how long it would take to earn that much money or alternatives for what that money could buy.

For instance, he was walking through a store the other day with his sister and me. She saw something and said, “It’s only $50,” and my son explained how $50 was a lot of money. He went on to explain what many people could do with that $50, like the little boy we are sponsoring through our church.

His general attitude has changed. He is more responsible, mature and helpful. I don’t have to ask him to do chores—he will ask me if he can help me. If I say, “It would really help me if you would clean for me,” he says, “No problem,” and just does it and does a great job. Before, I would have to ask a million times, and then he would do a halfway job. I’d have to check it and have him redo it two or three times. Now, he takes pride in his work and does an amazing job the first time and is proud to show me.

I would love to have the program year-round. Some kids aren’t athletes—they don’t have practice after school. Many people ask, “So what do you do outside of school? Do you play sports?” They would have a great topic to discuss and be proud of: “No, I VOLUNTEER!”

This program really made him feel helpful, needed and good at something. He felt like he belonged to something, and he was proud of himself.  He was motivated enough to show up every day because he felt that his contributions were that important to the projects.

If kids are able to give back to their community, work in their community, see so many different areas, and help people in their community, it makes them respect all of those people and areas of their community.  Hopefully, they will continue to respect their community and feel connected as they grow.

Do you have a story on how service has transformed your life? Please email Lacey at

A Canadian Summer with YVC

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He turned a retirement home into a bowling alley for a few hours.  He was part of a team that pulled six bags full of weeds at a park, then later that day served a meal for hundreds of hungry people at a homeless shelter. He manned the “Pin the Tail on the Cow” game at a BBQ festival. And he did all of this and much more all in the month of July.

Head on over to this post at Youth Are Awesome to hear about an amazing summer of volunteering through the eyes of Kevin, YVC of Calgary’s volunteer who served the most hours this summer. While you’re there, explore the rest of this blog that’s maintained entirely by Calgary youth through Youth Central’s Youth Are Awesome program.

Thanks, Kevin, for all of your hard work this summer! Keep up the good work!

YVC Board votes Adele Hall as New Board Chair

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Exciting news this week as Adele Hall becomes only our third Board Chair ever at YVC.

Adele has been actively involved with YVC since day one back in 1987. I was told to seek her expertise by a number of people when first trying to start up this program that would come to be known as YVC. She was so well-respected for her volunteer efforts.  People thought she could give some valuable insights into forming YVC and boy, were they right.

Adele is a great example of the volunteer spirit.  She has volunteered herself in so many different ways throughout her life.  The reason she has taken such a keen interest in YVC these 25 years is that she knows how important it is to give young people an excellent first volunteer experience.  Furthermore, she wants all young people no matter their economic class, racial background and abilities to have the chance to give back.

Adele has volunteered at a national level for some of the best known charities in our country like United Way, Points of Light, and the United Negro College Fund.  She has also volunteered for local non-profits that are near and dear to her heart like hospitals and animal shelters.  (Adele will always make time for dogs and loves talking about hers.)

Adele is a doer and true to her nature, she has hit the ground running.  Once she was announced as the Chairman-elect a few weeks ago, she immediately (meaning the next day) came into the office and mostly listened as she sat down one-on-one with our national staff–many of whom she already knew.  She has also made time to meet personally or on the phone with the other ten members of our national board.

We are so fortunate to have Adele Hall back on our national Board and now serving as our national Board Chairman.  She is ready to lead us in celebrating 25 years and laying the groundwork for an even better next 25 years.

-David Battey

Getting to Know… Sharin Tellez at YVC of Racine

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One of the many messages that YVC passes on to its volunteers is that volunteering is a lifelong activity; it’s something every individual can continue to participate in as the years pass by, and something that you’re never too young to do. Sharin Tellez, Youth Coordinator at the YVC site in Racine, Wisconsin, is a living example of this lesson.

She has been volunteering since the age of 13 when she needed a productive activity to fill her time but was too young to get a paying job.  When she was 16, though, her volunteer experience paid off in a big way. Sharin utilized all that she learned with the Responding to Emergencies and Disasters with Youth program to save both her own family and her neighbors from a flood. This experience and more inspires her to spread her love of volunteering to youth through YVC.

“Since I started volunteering, I’ve worked with a lot of different organizations and have been a part of the community for quite a while,” she said. “Because of this, I know enough people so that when I go out and see families, parents, or teachers, I can plug my program and tell them all about our summer program.”

For the past six months, 19-year old Sharin has been in charge of the YVC of Racine, helping to arrange the site’s summer program. She not only plans YVC projects and supervises the youth on the projects, but she’s also constantly working to promote youth volunteerism, whether she’s on-site at a project or just spreading the word at the local grocery store.

She’s been kept busy ensuring that both she and the program are visible in the community, but knows all of her intense work is necessary for the rewarding end result.

“It’s been my biggest priority to talk about our program during community events because we need to make the program more widespread and known,” said Sharin. “This means a lot of networking. I’ve worked with schools to make sure we can talk to their kids about getting involved with the community. It has also required a lot of learning on my end because I have to learn in order to teach others.”

This year’s summer program was a huge step in the right direction for both Sharin and YVC of Racine as a whole. It was comprised of week-long camps at six different sites, with six-hour work days. Youth Volunteers had a variety of projects to choose from, including a disaster preparedness camp where a mock disaster taught the volunteers how to handle various situations and a food bank where baskets of food were built and distributed to those in need. They also planted, weeded, and harvested in a community garden, socialized with the elderly, and worked at a sustainable farm.

“I wanted to make sure each one of these camps is really different because I’ve got to keep it interesting for the kids, based on what I would want to do,” Sharin said. “Plus, the diversity of the kids is great. I like having kids who otherwise wouldn’t socialize with one another. It shows that we’re not as different from one another as we would like to think we are.”

While Racine has been passing on the YVC message that volunteering is important, Sharin has been teaching an additional lesson through her hard work and dedication.

“I’m nineteen. I’m a teenager, and this is my home. These are my people. This is who I am,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are because you can accomplish a lot. It’s great to have our youth working here to make it the best we can because we’re proving that our youth are a lot more valuable than some people give them credit for. ”

Our neighbors in Joplin

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Since YVC’s national office is based in Kansas City, we’ve all been thinking a lot about the tornado that devastated Joplin, MO, last week and the people whose lives were affected.

We thought about them last Sunday when the news first reported that our neighbors a few hours south were hit by a deadly tornado.

We thought about them last Wednesday morning when a tornado came our way, and we took cover together in the ground-floor stairwell of our office.

We thought about them Wednesday afternoon when we were safely back at work, with no major harm done to our city.

But here at YVC, we try to take action instead of simply sending our thoughts. YVC of Greater Kansas City, which shares an office with the YVC national staff, is holding a supplies drive and has collected boxes upon boxes of water bottles and toiletries. Two Youth Volunteers even turned their graduation party into a collection drive and collected an entire carload of supplies this weekend.

Yesterday, Jenn Beard, YVC’s Vice President of Affiliate Operations, gave up her Memorial Day to get her hands dirty and help the people of Joplin. Read about her story and see before and after photos of the destruction at her blog here.

We’re looking at ways we can help even more by taking further action. Meanwhile, we’re still sending more thoughts because sometimes, our thoughts are the most valuable thing we have to offer.

Volunteer this summer to build experience

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Teens with visions of flipping burgers or lifeguarding this summer may be left with no job and an empty wallet, if economists’ predictions for the teen job market are accurate. A record low one-in-four U.S. teenagers who are looking for a summer job are expected to be hired, according to a study by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston.

The good news is that volunteering in the summer can have even longer lasting benefits than a minimum-wage job. Working without pay may not be as attractive to a high school student, but with the promises of resume-building and potential future scholarship opportunities, it may have more long-term pay-off after all.

Committing to volunteering can help you:

  • Gain leadership skills and learn to take initiative on issues you’re passionate about.
  • Learn how to interact with others and find things you have in common with people from all walks of life.
  • Build teamwork skills serving on a group project like those YVC organizes.
  • Gain applicable job experience serving at a variety of nonprofits. Try out what it would be like to be a veterinarian by volunteering at an animal shelter. Perfect your writing and communicating skills by helping with marketing tasks at a nonprofit.
  • Strengthen your college application by showing you were committed to a long-term project. A study by surveyed 33 colleges and universities and found that commitment to a volunteer project was more powerful on a college application than a short-term service trip abroad.
  • Try out potential careers by volunteering at a variety of nonprofits.
  • Have a lot of fun and meet new people on your projects!

If you find the job search even more difficult than you anticipated, don’t hesitate to try volunteering instead. Go to to find a YVC affiliate near you to get started on a summer volunteer program.

Guest Post: Q&A with Peter Levine of C.I.R.C.L.E.

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Peter LevineMany thanks to Peter Levine, an expert on youth civic engagement, for answering some questions for the YVC blog! Peter is Director of C.I.R.C.L.E. (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement) and Research Director of Tufts University’s Jonathan Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. We’re excited to feature him in our first-ever YVC Blog interview!

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