For an enhanced digital experience, read this story in the ezine.
Park and recreation programs engage teens in impactful volunteer service
Park and recreation departments in Corvallis, Oregon, and Muskogee, Oklahoma, have impacted their communities for nearly 30 years with their Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) programming. Youth Volunteer Corps’ mission is to engage youth in team-based service experiences that build life and work skills while inspiring a lifetime ethic of service. YVC can be implemented in any park and recreation department. All volunteer opportunities through YVC incorporate service learning, an effective way for youth to learn through a hands-on experience that connects classroom knowledge and 21st century skills to prepare youth for life beyond high school.
Leaders Zach Johnson, recreation coordinator and YVC program director for Corvallis Parks and Recreation, and Leslie Hamil, YVC program director for Muskogee Parks and Recreation, share ways that YVC has helped their communities and led youth to grow through YVC programming under their passionate leadership.
Sarah Miller: How long has your department been running the YVC program? Can you share an example of how teens are making an impact in the community?
Zach Johnson: YVC has been a part of Corvallis Parks and Recreation since 1995. Since then, we have worked with [more than] 60 nonprofits and public agencies to provide youth volunteer opportunities that both help the organizations and teach our youth valuable skills while connecting them with their community.
Leslie Hamil: YVC has been a part of Muskogee Parks and Recreation since 1993. Our youth work on many entities in the community, including Safe Routes to Schools [as well as] libraries, summer camps and much more.
Miller: How have you seen teens experience growth while volunteering with YVC?
Johnson: One of the biggest areas of growth we see in our youth is a rise in confidence and the feeling of making a difference. One of our youth volunteers began volunteering to get school credit but stayed because she enjoyed the feeling she got when she made a difference in someone’s life.
Hamil: We have seen shy and quiet youth find their voice and become outspoken advocates. YVC helps youth become their best selves and shows them that they can make a difference in the community no matter where they come from. That is a very powerful feeling to have!
Miller: What are some of the most popular volunteer projects?
Johnson: Our two most popular volunteer projects are with our local humane societies and environmental organizations. At humane societies, youth help sanitize the shelters, make toys for animals, socialize the animals and more! At environmental organizations, youth learn about the natural areas around them by removing invasive species, planting and watering new plants and more to enhance our local parks and natural areas.
Hamil: Our most popular project occurs at a camp for youth and adults with intellectual and physical disabilities. The project has our volunteers waiting not so patiently for the next summer to see their camp buddies. The project is so popular it usually has a waiting list to volunteer.
Miller: What is a story from the YVC program that you will never forget?
Johnson: One of my favorite projects is our annual Leaf Rake. We offer a day [during] which citizens who are not physically able can request to have a group of YVC volunteers come rake leaves for them. Seeing the human impact of this project makes it extremely memorable and something we look forward to doing every year.
Hamil: There is an unforgettable story for every volunteer. The number of volunteers who graduate and come back to work as leaders in the program during summers off from college is one of the biggest compliments to the YVC program and to the long-term effects on the youth. So many of the youth go off into the world, and we follow them on social media and see the impact they are still making.
At YVC headquarters, we love to see youth involved in park and recreation departments making a difference in their communities! Are you interested in starting a youth volunteer program? Visit yvc.org or email us to learn more.
Sarah Miller is Affiliate Programs and Growth Manager at Youth Volunteer Corps.