"They expect to have everything handed to them."While these frustrating faces of the next generation do exist (and I'm sure our elders felt the same way about us), the one thing I can say about today's teens and young adults is that they do a better job of caring for others than my generation ever did. Personally, the concept of "service" wasn't even on my radar at that age, whereas kids today seem to grow up understanding and accepting the call to help those in need. For many, this begins when mom and dad ask party guests to bring an item for charity instead of a birthday gift (personally, the jury's still out on that one).
"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." -- Mahatma GandhiToday, service is a requirement for graduation from our high schools. It's part of what qualifies you for National Honor Society. It's what admissions folks expect to see on your college application. And here's the kicker: I know thousands of kids who continue to serve well after it benefits them on paper.
Okay, I don't know thousands of them personally, but I've seen them in action.
"Service" has been the name of the game in my world for the past few weeks. It started with St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service (STVDS) on September 27, followed by our friends' Ride for Autism Speaks, then last weekend's Ann's Love Builds and the Ride to Conquer Cancer. This past week, Villanova students spent their fall break serving around the region and around the world. And, the entire 8th grade year at Abby's school is dedicated to supporting Cradles to Crayons.
Villanova University's commitment to service isn't just some warm and fuzzy phrase in the promotional material. It's the real deal. STVDS drew 4,300 students, faculty and staff who engaged in service at 140 sites in the greater Philadelphia area. Last weekend, 600 students gathered in St. Thomas of Villanova Church for a blessing and dedication before leaving for their fall service trips.
Then there are my personal friends who do amazing things to care for others. The Fischers put together an annual ride that brings out dozens of bikers to benefit Autism Speaks, and youth are among the many volunteers. At Christmas, a party invitation comes with a request that we bring coats to donate to a local charity. (Not nearly as tacky as asking us to bring food.)
In honor of my friend Ann Bates who lost her battle with brain cancer three years ago this November, Ann's Love Builds continues its annual day of service in her memory. This year, more than 100 people turned out at six different work sites from Princeton to Media as a way of celebrating Ann's life and dedication to caring for others. I spent the morning at a home with 20+ youth and adults whose goal was to provide wheelchair access for a man who recently became a paraplegic. Work included gutter cleaning and guards, trench digging for drainage, and painting the home's basement. In North Philly, Princeton lacrosse players (Ann's husband Chris is the coach) worked at a homeless shelter. Tell me that wasn't a life changing experience for those young men, many of whom grew up having the best of everything.
At the same time Ann's Love was building, Rob was riding his bike, over 130 miles in two days, to raise funds and awareness for cancer research. A fitting tribute to Ann and the millions who lose their battle with cancer each year.
These days, when we consider the state of our country and the world, what first comes to mind are the negatives: our government, debt, terrorism, the economy, ebola, hunger, violence, you name it. It's nice to be able to point to the good that is happening in communities everywhere, thanks to a new generation's commitment to care.
- Teenagers volunteer 2.4 billion hours annually – worth $34.3 billion to the US economy.
- Youth volunteering has increased steadily over the past ten years, with 30% of youth participating in volunteer activities at least once a month in 2000.
- Out of 13.3 million youth, 59.3% volunteer an average of 3.5 hours per week, versus 49% of the adult population
- Youth who volunteer just one hour or more a week are 50% less likely to abuse alcohol, cigarettes, become pregnant, or engage other destructive behavior.
- Teens say the benefits received from volunteering are: Learning to respect others; learning to be helpful and kind; learning to understand people who are different; developing leadership skills, becoming more patient, and better understanding of citizenship.
- Youth who volunteer are more likely to do well in school, graduate and vote.
- Young people involved in community service are more likely to have a strong work ethic as an adult.
- Youth who volunteer are three times more likely to volunteer as adults.
- 81% of Americans who have volunteer experiences when they are young give to charitable organizations as adults.
"The life of a man consists not in seeing visions and in dreaming dreams,
but in active charity and in willing service."
but in active charity and in willing service."
-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow