Jon Sutton

Executive Director, Empowering Students

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How do we engage our youth in volunteerism?

I run a website -- -- that focuses on engaging students in volunteerism. I'm hoping my site and my idea will allow for our youth to find causes they are passionate about and get involved in them. Too often, one of these two events happens:

1) A student finds a cool cause but can't get involved. They don't know where to start
2) A student doesn't know what they even want to help with or what charities exist to combat it

I aim to eliminate both of these reasons by providing students with:

1) Contact information and fundraising/charitable ideas for the causes they want to get involved in. If they want to volunteer, we hope to find a place they can do that at. If they want to raise money, we want to help them do it most effectively and for an organization they are passionate about
2) A broad database of organizations sorted by cause, location, located affected, etc.

Am I on the right track? I am basing my conclusions and my solutions on my own experiences as a student. How can we effectively engage our youth in volunteerism? Do we provide them with enough resources? What types of resources can we give them that will help them the most?

This is my first post on TED; be gentle.

  • Oct 24 2011: One suggestion would be to "lead by example." Show them, with enthusiasm, what kind of feeling you get out of volunteering, using what you have volunteered for as a case study. Then open them up to suggestions with a variety of things to volunteer for. Be creative and start with something that is dear to "them." That "they" think is important. Then move on to what "is" important. Start a spark and it might lead to a fire and then spread.
  • Oct 23 2011: Yes you are on the right track. Organized efforts that permit a limited engagement and a controlled positive experience would be a good start. Programs such as religious youth groups, Scouts, and similar groups provide this experience.

    As an adult, I think that volunteerism is its own reward, but the youth in our country are faced with concurrently needing to start out life, which means finding what you like to do, what you need to do to survive, and finding out what you want to do with your life. It is quite a commitment for a young person to make unless they are looking to be monk, nun, or permanent volunteer with the Peace Corps. Many decisions involved continued training and require money, like college. The military provides service opportunity with pay and potential for bettering yourself. Volunteerism might use this as a model. Perhaps organizations that take on the responsibility of some of these social problems could work out some sort of "volunteer dollar s for college" program, where no cash was exchanged, but there was some form of usable tuition credit given to the volunteers that could be applied to any accredited degree seeking program or trade skill development program.

    This may take some executive coordination to get participation from Public( city, state, federal government), Social Groups (religious,civic, professional societies, etc.), Academic Schools, Trade schools, and Corporate sponsors. This coordination effort might leverage entities in the local area where the service would be provided.

    You are on the right track. Perhaps with smart folks like you trying to make it happen and utilizing national exposure type websites like TED will eventually get traction with political leaders.

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      Oct 24 2011: Thanks for the kind words.

      Do you have any suggestions to make the idea better? I wish I could offer tuition incentives to students to volunteer, but that's something I'd have to lobby the government for, and given our awful state of politics...
      • Oct 24 2011: Tuition incentives is a fight that might be worthy of pursuit. I just sent the idea to my congressman and referenced TED. Probably mean I get more junk mail, but it is worth a shot.

        I think combining and interacting with youth group leaders may be a start. Scouts, Jaycees, Church groups, School groups all might be interested at some level. It would increase your audience.
  • Oct 23 2011: Many schools mandate volunteering. I think this is potentially harmful because it destroys the spirit of volunteerism: that it is voluntary. I think that the best way to go about promoting volunteering is to give the students more options.

    Volunteerism helps bridge the gap between what students learn in school to how that knowledge can be applied in real life.

    I think what you have is great (not bad for a first post).

    To add upon the idea:
    I think its absolutely key to allow students to come up with their own ideas. We are more enthusiastic about our own ideas.

    Best of luck!
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      Oct 23 2011: I agree, the worst thing we can do to volunteering is to marginalize it into the equivalent of community service.
      Lack of knowledge of the opportunities, while no excuse is the only rationalization I can think of.
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      Oct 24 2011: I completely agree with you in both regards.

      Volunteerism has to be just that, voluntary. That's why a big part of my idea is allowing students to find something they are passionate about.

      Allowing students to create their own ideas is a great addition, too. Ways we can provide students with resources to create their own charities should be encouraged.