Teens volunteering for community service in record numbers, study says

December 03, 1992|By McClatchy News Service

The '60s generation that spawned hippies, yippies, lov beads, flower power, Woodstock, lava lamps and bitter debate over the Vietnam War is giving the United States something new to rattle society's status quo: activist offspring.

Instead of marching in the street shouting slogans and waving signs, teen-agers are volunteering in record numbers for community service ranging from feeding the hungry to baby-sitting for friends, according to a new national study.

"They see a need and they want to do something about it," said John Thomas, spokesman for Independent Sector, a coalition of 800 non-profit groups that has documented the trend toward youthful, grass-roots activism in separate polls the past two years.

Six of every 10 U.S. adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 participate in at least one volunteer activity per year, representing a combined 2.1 billion volunteer hours, the new study said. Independent Sector surveyed 1,404 adolescents nationwide.

The average teen volunteer last year donated 3.2 hours weekly. The most popular causes were religion, education, youth development and informal activities such as visiting a convalescent hospital or buying groceries for a sick neighbor, the study said.

Teen volunteerism has increased roughly 3 percent the past two years, but the number may be skewed slightly because Independent Sector did not poll 12-and 13-year-olds in 1990.

"I think there are a lot of people out there who notice all the suffering and how bad everything is with the recession -- and they just want to help," said Aaron Trzesniewski of California State University, Sacramento.

The 18-year-old college freshman recently coordinated construction of storage shelves for the Loaves & Fishes soup kitchen as part of a pledge requirement for Delta Chi fraternity.

"I think people really can make a difference," he said. "And helping somebody else is the best feeling you can give yourself."

High school and college students may be more sensitive to joblessness and poverty than many adults face because they worry about finding employment themselves once they graduate, Mr. Trzesniewski said.

"We see the hard times, and it gives us sympathy for those who are worse off," he said.

[In Maryland, high school students are required to perform community service as prerequisite for graduation.]

Youngsters are increasing their monetary contributions to charities this year, too.

Fifty percent of adolescents from ages 12 to 17 contributed an average of $56 to various causes last year, compared with 48 percent of teens ages 14 to 17 giving an average of $46 in 1989, Mr. Thomas said.

More than 60 percent of teens surveyed expressed confidence in human service agencies, private college education and youth development, environmental and health organizations.

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