Youth Volunteerism: Creating Active Agents of Change

By Catherine Cates IN 1986, Whitney Houston popularized the song The Greatest Love of All. The song began with the lyrics, "I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way." For our country to continue to move forward, parents, educators and the Bahamian society at large must enable our youth to become active agents of change. The earlier children interact with the community, the better! Many sociological studies have examined volunteerism over the life span. Results indicate that levels of volunteerism in adulthood are dependent on whether individuals volunteered during their youth. Youth volunteerism reaps a laundry list of positive personal and societal outcomes. Individual benefits include personal growth, job skills training, higher levels of self-esteem, social awareness and personal efficacy. Volunteering has also been shown to reduce prejudices by developing a child's ability to empathize with others. When children and adolescents are able to imagine themselves in the place of the underprivileged they learn to appreciate the conditions that lead to societal disadvantages. In turn, this process allows children and adolescents to develop a sense of fairness, justice and respect for the dignity of the individual, groups and communities. This social and emotional development then allows our youth to think critically and creatively about how to positively affect social change while discouraging anti-social behaviours that lead to crime. Several studies have reported a strong inverse relationship between levels of volunteerism and criminal activity. Through youth volunteerism, our community gains a generation of young people who care about where they live and are willing to make a commitment to improvement. How can we increase youth volunteerism in the Bahamas? Start by finding small, manageable ways to volunteer as a family. Volunteer for an hour at a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. Donate clothes and toys to local orphanages, homes for the aged and charities like the Salvation Army. Physically taking your children to deliver their donations will aid in your child's understanding of social differences and appreciation for their family and circumstances. Encourage adolescents and young adults to join community, faith-based or school service organisations. There are over 300 youth organisations registered with the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture. Recommended organisations include: Bahamas 4-H, Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and GGYA. For more information on how to get involved contact LVCH at www.lignumvitaebahamas.org Let us begin to invest social capital by encouraging our youth to become the catalyst that promotes social advancement and empowerment in the Bahamas.


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