- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

The number of people who did charitable service in their teens has risen to 67 percent the highest percentage in 50 years, says a study released today by two groups involved in volunteerism.

This finding bodes well for the nation, because people who do volunteer work in their youth are likely to perform public service throughout their lives, said Christopher Toppe, director of philanthropic studies at Independent Sector, which issued the study with Youth Service America (YSA).

Still, "youth service" needs to become a normal part of work, family life, classrooms, religious groups, youth-development organizations and even governments, said Steven Culbertson, YSA president and chief executive.

"The instinct to help others must be nurtured from early childhood, in the same way as other kinds of learning," Mr. Culbertson said.

"You simply can't flip a switch when a young person turns 18 and expect them to be, all of a sudden, magically, civically engaged, and ready to vote and ready to volunteer," he said.

Independent Sector is a nonpartisan coalition of 700 nonprofits, foundations and corporate-philanthropy programs. YSA is an alliance of 300 groups dedicated to promoting youth volunteerism on local, national and international levels.

Their study, "Engaging Youth in Lifelong Service: Findings and Recommendations for Encouraging a Tradition of Voluntary Action Among America's Youth," is based on telephone interviews taken during the summer of 2001 with 4,216 adults about their volunteering habits and household giving in the previous year.

The adults were also asked about their childhood volunteering experiences.

Less than half 44 percent said they had volunteered in the last year. However, of these volunteering adults, 67 percent said they had begun to volunteer when they were children.

The study's size provided insight into youth-service trends. It found, for instance, that of people who were high school students (age 16) in the 1950s, around half did volunteer work.

Student volunteering jumped during the 1960s, owing to interest in the Great Society programs under President Johnson, but this waned over the 1970s and 1980s.

During the 1990s, the number of young volunteers rebounded and rose to a historical high of 67 percent by 1996.

The study defined volunteering as performing a charitable service, fund raising, participating in a student government, belonging to a youth group or being active in a religious organization.

It found that if people were involved in multiple activities in their youth, they were far more likely to be involved in community service as adults, compared with those who did little or no volunteering in their youth.

The study also found that youthful volunteerism was linked to generous charitable giving as an adult.

While this effect was seen in all income categories, it was most noticeable in wealthy households with annual incomes of $100,000 or more. If the wealthy household had someone who had volunteered as a youth, the average annual contribution was $4,556.

If no one in the wealthy household had volunteered as a youth, the average gift was $2,835.

One way to increase youth service is to "increase the number and quality of opportunities" for young people, said Silvia Golombek, vice president of programs at YSA.

"For example, a story hour in a library does not have to be conducted just by adults. A 10- or 12-year-old with good reading skills and a clear voice can read to younger children," she said.

Mandatory community-service learning in schools in which students not only perform public service, but write and talk about it is essential, Mr. Culbertson added. Learning about what causes the problems "engages kids that's what gets them excited," he said.

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