“YVC has made me come out of my shell. I honestly struggled a lot with leadership in the beginning because I was a very shy person, and I never liked to talk in front of large groups of people, or even talk to strangers. I am no longer nervous to talk to anyone. In fact I love meeting and talking to new people.” Sarah, 11th grade, credits her experiences with YVC in Baton Rouge.
Sarah is one of thousands of youth who have volunteered with YVC in Baton Rouge, one of YVC’s longest running Youth Volunteer Corps programs, over the years.
YVC of Baton Rouge offers Saturday projects twice a month, opportunities to serve on school holidays like MLK Day and spring break, and an eight week Summer of Service program. The projects are varied, ranging from retirement homes to arts camps within the community.
And it’s having a true impact on both the youth who serve and the community they’re serving.
One of the most popular projects is Paddle Up Clean Up, where youth paddle boats to clean up local waterways. “The youth see it as paddling around in boats with their friends while helping the environment,” says Victoria Naquin, Team Leader and AmeriCorps member with YVC of Baton Rouge. “It gives them a chance to do something different and exciting.”
Another popular project is Blast from the Past Louisiana History Camp with the West Baton Rouge Museum, which is YVC of Baton Rouge’s longest running summer project, celebrating its 20th year as a YVC project this summer.
“You get to address the needs of your community up front, and have hands on experiences like painting, planting, kayaking, and so much more all while making a difference in the lives of many,” Sarah says.
Victoria ensures that youth have a wide variety of projects to pick from so that anyone can find something that holds their interests. “We play sports with children and adults with intellectual disabilities,” she says. “We also work with a client-choice food pantry and the youth get to help the clients pick out their monthly food allotment instead of just getting a box of food.”
They also incorporate icebreaker and teambuilder games into every project to make sure that youth get to know each other and have fun together.
And these fun components really make a difference, Sarah says.
“A lot of people my age claim that they are ‘busy,’ but really they are just probably watching TV in bed. Come on y’all, volunteering is so much more fun than watching TV!” she says. “I believe if you want others to follow suit and volunteer, you have to be the first domino that starts a chain reaction, which means you need a lot of leadership skills.”
YVC of Baton Rouge is gearing up for their annual Summer of Service, this one bigger than ever. With five Team Leaders coordinating projects, they are hoping to engage 100 to 150 youth. They will have an average of four projects going on each of the eight weeks of the program, and they’re expanding into four surrounding areas instead of just staying in Baton Rouge.
With even more programming this summer, they’re bound to impact even more youth who will have the chance to transform their communities and maybe even themselves.
“Youth Volunteer Corps helps the youth feel like we can still do something,” Sarah says. “There are so many things we are always told, ‘No, you can’t do this. You’re too young.’ That’s not the case with YVC. You get a sense of belonging from just being a part of it.”