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Community Participation

"Community participation" includes a range of activities from volunteering at a homeless shelter to organizing a protest.

Facts on Volunteering/Community Service
For quick facts on youth volunteering see the following Fact Sheets:

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Measuring Volunteering

"What does it mean to ask someone if he or she volunteers? It means that we have an answer totally dependent on how individuals define volunteering, without any consistency between individuals." Chris Toppe, Senior Social Scientist at the Points of Light Foundation, takes on this challenge of identifying a more accurate way of measuring volunteer rates. He finds that asking behavioral questions about volunteer activities increases the number of volunteers and levels of commitment captured.

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Driving Forces Behind the Rise in Youth Volunteering

It has been well documented by numerous surveys that young people today are volunteering at unprecedented rates. A new report by Lewis A. Friedland and Shauna Morimoto examines the motivating factors behind volunteering.

Young people are facing higher stress, greater uncertainty and risk (although coupled with opportunities for some), and looser connections among family, friends, and communities. While parents' occupation may still predict the broad income band that children will occupy in adulthood, it will not necessarily predict educational achievement, occupation, or lifestyle. Students recognize that their future life chances rest on college attendance. Anxiety resulting from this recognition has suffused both the lives and future life-planning of all sectors of high-school-aged youth. Under these circumstances, young people of all classes are approaching service as (in part) an instrumental price to pay for college admission.

In addition to the resume-padding, this study finds that several other factors are motivating the rise in volunteer activity, and these factors vary by class and racial position, ideological disposition, and religious involvement. Additionally, the report contains a typology of youth volunteers.

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The Gap Between Service and Politics: A Candid Discussion Between Young People and Politicians

Research shows that young people are leading the way in volunteering, but falling behind in political participation. In January 2004, college students in Wisconsin were invited to join U.S. Representatives Tammy Baldwin and Mark Green at The Johnson Foundation's Wingspread Conference Center to discuss the disconnect between service and politics. Findings from the meeting are contained in CIRCLE Working Paper 27: From the Horse's Mouth: A Dialogue Between Politicians and College Students.

The Working Paper suggests that one way to increase youth involvement in politics may be to develop more models that allow students the opportunity to engage in realistic political exercises through their schools or other places of civic education. Students noted that working in a soup kitchen prepared them for service work, but it did not prepare them to advocate for policies to decrease homelessness. To work on these policies, students need opportunities engage in the realities of politics, including partisanship, without advancing one side or the other. Several other recommendations and insights can be found in the paper.

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National Service

The President’s call for more Americans to engage in national
service through programs such as the USA Freedom Corps brings
new attention to a long history of voluntary service programs in
America. Since the New Deal, Americans have participated in a
variety of civilian national service programs. A CIRCLE Working
Paper by Melissa Bass traces the development of the three most
prominent civilian national service programs—AmeriCorps, VISTA,
and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)—and gives reasons
why to date national service in the United States has not been
recognized and supported as a viable policy option for addressing
the nation’s needs and a viable life-option for significant numbers
of young adults.

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How to Encourage Young Volunteers

A major survey completed in September, 2002 and released by CIRCLE contains detailed information on how to encourage youth volunteering. Here are just a few of the findings:

  • Being asked is the top reason motivating young people to volunteer (closely followed by "because it makes me feel good.")
  • Young people who grow up in a household where someone volunteers are twice as likely to volunteer regularly, to be an active member of a group, and are more likely to follow politics and vote.
  • Young people who discuss a volunteer experience are twice as likely as others to volunteer regularly. And, they are also 16 percentage points more likely to try to influence someone's vote!

Click here for highlights and access to more detailed information.


The following trends are interesting:

Volunteering Is Up Among Incoming College Students Since 1989
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Volunteering Is Up Among High School Students Since 1990
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However, closer examination reveals that most of the increase has been caused by a rise in episodic, rather than regular, volunteering.

CIRCLE's analysis of the 2002 National Youth Survey data shows that "efficacy," the sense that one can make a difference, often predicts a tendency to volunteer:

Factors Related To Volunteering
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Furthermore, young people do not say that they volunteer because of requirements or in order to get into college:

Reasons Why Young Adults Volunteer
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Following young people from the high school class of 1992 reveals that levels of volunteering increase from 10th grade until age 20, but then fall off by age 26

Volunteering From 10th Grade to Age 26
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