By Carl Lakari
I have always thought volunteering is essentially the giving (of our energy) to help others. It’s service.
Sounds simple, but it’s not. I am challenged by years of judgments and carried perspectives – personal and cultural. “Rugged individualism”, “buck up, you can do it”, and “people should not ask for or need help”. Not true of course, but part of my personal makeup. I have to move through this to the other side of my nature. The one I am re-learning. The one that matters.
Young people are natural leaders and volunteers and they usually lack that baggage that adults (like I!) carry. And when I co-founded Project AWARE in 2003 I really had no idea that there was so much precious energy out there in our youth ready to be tapped for the greater good. Six years and many hundreds of volunteers later, I am convinced – the desire to make a difference and be of service is real and it is alive in our youth. And what great powerful service it is.
Here are a few ways Project AWARE provides support and appeal to youth volunteers:
• Initially going to existing youth networks and schools to get help soliciting young people as volunteers. Have an info gathering and make it fun and with food.
• Making the project specific, interesting, and fun with clear goals and outcomes primarily developed by the youth themselves.
• Letting young people take the lead. Providing tools and then standing back and giving them the opportunity to take charge and only supporting when necessary. The potential and the creativity of youth is phenomenal. They usually do not have enough opportunity to express it.
• Providing healthy and delicious food. Limiting sugar and no preservatives.
• By building relationships beyond the task at hand. Using games, special events, overnights, retreats and much more.
• Communicating in a variety of ways including e-mail, texting and phone and by not depending on any one method.
• Maintaining a lot of understanding for the hectic and busy schedules of young people today.
• Remembering they are young people and not adults. They are and should be a place appropriate for their age therefore different ways of relating, communicating, reminding and supporting are all necessary.
• Again, remembering to let them take the lead. If they have ownership of the project they will stick with it.
Editors Note: Next month, we will feature a letter from one of Project AWARE’s youth volunteers, Josephine Cooper. The mission of Project AWARE is to empower young people to lead.