By: Kristin Clements-Effner, MSW Training Coordinator/ Cofounder
When I say teenager, what comes to mind? Troublemakers or Student Council Officer; Consumer or Contributor; Future Leader or Leader Today. Our view of young people within our organization probably shapes our inclusion of them as volunteers and the opportunities we provide through volunteering. Catalyst has spent this week working with some dynamic young people in creating YouTube videos about social issues and training dedicated youth workers on partnering with teenagers in their classrooms. One thing always rings true in my experience working with young people: They will rise to the challenge and will pleasantly surprise you with what they can accomplish.
Over the past several years, I have worked with a number of young people who wanted to volunteer for a nonprofit to make a difference. We encountered so many stumbling blocks to finding meaningful ways for them to be engaged that they become disheartened in the process and questioned their ability to really make a difference. The biggest stumbling block was organizational policies that prohibited teens under the age of 18 from volunteering or if they were allowed to volunteer it was doing a task that most of us would find less than fulfilling (think clean bathrooms, pick up trash, etc).
The key to recruiting and retaining teen volunteers is to value them as people and leaders today. You need to ensure that organizational policies allow teens to become meaningfully engaged in your organization and be flexible in the options for them to get involved. You might have to create short-term, long-term, and virtual opportunities to accommodate school schedules. (They would be great social media volunteers for your organization because they have grown up with Facebook, YouTube, etc.) You might also have to take some time to teach new skills to assist them in being successful in existing opportunities or give a group of teens the freedom to create their own project for your organization.
The opportunities are endless and I assure you that you don’t want to miss out on the vibrancy and passion that teens can bring to your organization. They are ready to change the world, the question is will you let them?