Ask anyone who volunteers, they will tell you the benefit. They are helping their community through hands on involvement. The values of volunteering are even greater for students, but in Sedgwick County we are facing lower numbers of student volunteers, so we are getting creative.
In 2021, Wichita Public Schools, Safe Streets Wichita, and United Way of the Plains began working together to increase youth involvement in volunteer projects. The primary focus was on students ages 5-25. Why? Because despite the robust youth civic engagement infrastructure in Wichita, area youth are statistically less connected to their communities than young people in other areas of Kansas. According to the Kansas Communities that Care Survey, in 2021, just 35% of Sedgwick County students in grades 6-12 reported their community rewarded them for involvement. While volunteering isn’t about recognition, acknowledgment of a good deed done adds to the rewarding feeling, especially for students who are still developing good habits.
Finding Solutions to Engage Youth
One of the solutions we at United Way along with our partners at USD 259 and Safe Streets Wichita sought after was to apply for a $15,000 national grant through Youth Service America (YSA). These three stakeholder organizations applied for and received the grant last year that provided funding and training for successful youth engagement programs. Since area students have first-hand knowledge about specific needs in their schools and neighborhoods, they were invited to identify their concerns and share their views to kick off the project. The Youth Service America Youth Change the World Toolkit helped students prioritize the needs they wanted to address and then collaborate on solutions in problem areas. Specific volunteer projects were developed. Students then sought community partners and resources. The final step was to mobilize and deliver.
Global Youth Service Day
Global Youth Service Day is the culminating celebration of the work these students have undertaken since last September. Celebrated annually as the largest youth service and civic action event in the nation, the initiative highlights the capacity of all youth ages 5-25 to work together for the common good. This year it is being celebrated from April 29-May 1. With the help of YSA, communities across the nation will host events to inspire more involvement and celebrate the impact young people have through their volunteer work.
As a United Way of the Plains intern, I gathered videos from some area students to highlight their initiatives and share them with the community for Global Youth Service Day. The unique programs led by Wichita students included a school hygiene pantry, a voter registration drive, and presenting foster children with birthday gifts. Please watch the three-minute video (below) featuring eight different student leaders ranging from first graders to high school seniors. Then join me in congratulating them on doing so much good for their schools and community. We celebrate their giving spirit and hope they will continue to use their skills and passion to help solve challenging issues.
Apply for a Mini Grant
Interested in receiving a mini grant for a youth-led volunteer project? Contact Ngoc Voung at email@example.com for more information.