This article was written by Suzy Geppert, former SDSU Extension 4-H Youth Partnerships Field Specialist.
The buzz words of volunteering often focus around terms such as: service Learning, advocacy, and mentoring. However, if you were to ask many youth today as to why we volunteer, their quick response is usually “to help people in need”. That is a correct response, however; what is the definition of a “need”, how are they determined and why do we do it?
One way we can address volunteering with youth is to discuss “why we do it.” Many of us have grown up in a society of “gimmee”. Give me this, give me that. Until recent years, our nation’s economic capacity has led the world in development and some believe in doing so has made life to easy; resulting in give me expectations. People have lost sight of why we work, why we volunteer, and how these things benefit us as American Citizens.
So why do we do it?
If we were to look back on the history of volunteering it comes in many forms. The history of our country focuses around volunteer efforts in its quest for independence. American Patriots came from many different backgrounds. Some of the most active of this group were highly educated and fairly wealthy individuals. However, without the support of the ordinary people, such as farmers, lawyers, merchants, seamstresses, homemakers, shopkeepers, and ministers, the struggle for independence would have failed. Their volunteer efforts won independence for the United States of America. This call to action by American Patriots helped in the development of one of 4-H’s three mission mandates; citizenship.
Popular youth exchange programs like AFS (formerly American Field Service) and Youth for Understanding (YFU) originated from volunteer efforts as well. AFS evolved from its origins as a volunteer ambulance corps during World War I. YFU began as an effort to heal the wounds of World War II by bringing teenagers from war-torn Germany to the United States to live with a family and attend high school for a year. Both of these programs helped address physical as well as social/emotional needs of the time coinciding with another of our mission mandates; healthy living.
In the late 1800's, researchers at public universities saw that adults in the farming community did not readily accept the new agricultural discoveries being developed on university campuses. However, they found that young people were willing and ready to "experiment" with new ideas and share their experiences and successes with adults. By doing so, rural youth programs became an innovative way to introduce new agriculture technology to their communities; Science.
4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential, working and learning in partnership with caring adults. It provides meaningful opportunities for youth and adults to work together to create sustainable community change. As club leaders and adults it is important to guide our youth to the “why we do it of any volunteer effort”. This explanation will help guide them down the path of success towards being a leader for change instead of a bystander waiting for change to happen.