25th Anniversary: Celebrating the past and looking forward

Twenty-five years ago, youth were embarking on the first YVC projects ever, serving at a daycare for kids with special needs and helping coordinate activities at community centers. This year, in celebration of YVC’s 25th Anniversary, youth are serving on projects just like those first ones.

That first week of projects in the summer of 1987, 53 Youth Volunteers served at six different agencies throughout the Kansas City area. This year, hundreds of youth are serving at dozens of locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Already this month, youth have been busy learning about water conservation and gardening in the desert with YVC of Southern Arizona, working at a camp for children with special needs with YVC of Muskogee, and socializing cats at the local animal shelter with YVC of Greater Kansas City.

Although the scope of YVC’s reach has increased since 1987, the projects themselves look the same. This summer youth will be serving on similar projects as those 25 years ago, and the structure of each project is the same too. Since the beginning, YVC projects have been structured purposefully to help build youth up and encourage them to develop a lifetime ethic of service.

Since research has shown that if young people’s first experience with volunteering isn’t positive they may be turned away forever, YVC projects are specifically designed to be a positive experience with youth—this means they are all group-based, organized by an adult Team Leader, and include icebreakers, team-builders and service-learning lessons. YVC was designed this way 25 years ago, and researchers are now beginning to back this method up.

Developmental Psychologist Dr. Marilyn Price-Mitchell studied the benefits of summer programs for teenagers and found that the success of an activity can be determined by three key factors. Below are the three factors to consider, followed by how YVC service programs incorporate them.

  • Are there opportunities for leadership? – YVC programs offer youth the chance to stand up and be leaders both on each service project and in developing overarching programing.
  • Are there opportunities for understanding? – YVC welcomes all youth and encourages them to challenge themselves. All YVC projects are led by adult Team Leaders, who are often just older than the youth themselves and can relate well to the youth.
  • Are there opportunities for friendships? – YVC projects always begin with icebreaker games so that youth can get to know each other, and Team Leaders promote an open atmosphere that helps youth feel welcome.

With 25 years of Youth Volunteers changing the world through their service, the answers to these questions are the same as they were in 1987 on those first YVC projects. The only difference is that now, YVC has the proof in stories of its own.