Disadvantaged Teens Benefit from Volunteering - New Study
23 April 2007 at 12:38 pm
A US study has found that volunteering produces many positive benefits for teens from low-income backgrounds – they become empowered, are more likely to volunteer and become politically engaged, and believe they will graduate from college and make a difference in their communities.
But the study by the Corporation for National and Community Service also found a disturbing "class gap" in teen volunteer rates.
Youth from disadvantaged circumstances have a volunteer rate of 43 percent, compared to 59 percent for other youth. They are also much less likely than other youth to take part in service-learning or school civic clubs.
Corporation CEO David Eisner says the study highlights service as one of our most effective and positive interventions in a young person’s life. For youth at risk of hopelessness and despair, service builds social networks, trust, confidence, skills, initiative and lots of other tools that can help them succeed in life.
The study, "Leveling the Path to Participation: Volunteering and Civic Engagement among Youth from Disadvantaged Circumstances," is the third of the Youth Helping America series of reports based on interviews with 3,178 American youth ages 12 to 18.
Youth experts have long believed that the act of serving others can build confidence, a sense of responsibility, and social connectedness that is beneficial both to the young volunteer and the larger community.
The study confirmed that youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who volunteer demonstrated more positive civic attitudes and behaviours than youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who didn’t:
• Almost 40% more likely to believe that they can make some difference or a great deal of difference in their community (70% and 51%, respectively).
• Nearly 50% more likely to say they are very likely to graduate from college (76% and 51%, respectively).
• Twice as likely to discuss politics with their parents, other adults, or friends.
• 3.5 times more likely to say they are very likely to volunteer in the next year (52% to 15%, respectively).
The study found that this group is more likely to volunteer with religious organisations and less likely to volunteer with youth civic or leadership groups.
Forty-eight percent of youth from disadvantaged backgrounds say they volunteer because of their religious or spiritual beliefs, compared to 36 percent of other youth volunteers.
In addition, 39 percent of youth from disadvantaged circumstances who volunteer do so through religious congregations, compared to 33 percent of other youth. This suggests that faith-based organisations are a key pathway for engaging more youth from disadvantaged backgrounds in service.
In looking at motivations, youth from disadvantaged circumstances gave the same primary reason for volunteering as their peers from higher income backgrounds: the importance of helping others.
But the groups split ways when asked about other motivations to volunteer. Youth from disadvantaged circumstances are much more likely than non-disadvantaged youth to be motivated to volunteer in order to gain work experience.
This finding suggests that organisations aiming to attract youth from disadvantaged backgrounds into service should make sure to offer volunteer opportunities that can provide useful work and career skills.
For purposes of this analysis, youth were considered to be from disadvantaged circumstances when their family’s income was less than or equal to 200 percent of the poverty level, following the 2005 federal poverty guidelines.
The report is on the Corporation’s website at www.nationalservice.gov