It is service to a cause greater than oneself that inspires the greatest form of leadership. Serving each other is in our genetic makeup. We are meant to take the time to give back to our communities, despite the common misperception that life is only about getting what is owed to you. Service doesn’t have to be a choice between acting in one’s own self-interest and acting in the best interests of others, because giving back can be as fulfilling and enriching for the volunteer as for the community that receives the extra help.
Some of the benefits that volunteerism provides are straightforward, such as resume and network building. Yet, many of the benefits of volunteering are immeasurable. When I volunteer, I feel joy and fulfillment. I grow in my own abilities and skill sets. I learn about the world around me and about the ways that I can help to work for justice in my community. I am enriched by each relationship that I create along the way, and I have fun meeting other like-minded people who may have grown up in a completely different community from my own.
Now more than ever, communities are realizing the impact of volunteer experience on developing well-rounded citizens. Many high schools and colleges in America require students to commit a certain number of community-service hours prior to graduation. Employers in America find candidates to be more attractive when they have volunteer activities on their resumes. Our AmeriCorps volunteers at City Year find more job opportunities and grow their professional networks after committing their hours of service with us. For our AmeriCorps volunteers, serving with City Year is often the catalyst that leads them into careers in teaching, public policy, other nonprofits, or law firms. There is no limit to how much our national service organization opens doors for our young idealists.
At City Year, we believe that the youth of our communities carry the idealism, the energy and the unique solutions to face the challenges that face our society. As an organization, City Year’s vision is that one day the most commonly asked question of a young person will be: “Where are you going to do your service year?” Think of how much it would change our societies if our young people were expected to complete one year of direct service to their communities as a rite of passage into the working world. The future of our communities rests on the shoulders of those who are willing to voluntarily make the world a better place. If we are not happy with our communities, then it is our obligation to do something positive to change them.
In my upcoming #YALICHAT, I welcome questions on the benefits of volunteerism in a community, on how to inspire community participation, and on motivating and attracting volunteers toward a cause.
Jeff Franco is vice president and executive director of City Year Washington, DC, a nonprofit organization whose teams of diverse young adults commit to a year of full-time service keeping students in school and on track to graduate. Since joining the organization in 2008, he has quadrupled the number of students and schools served, doubled the size of the staff and more than doubled the organization’s fundraising capacity. He has led the development and implementation of a strategic plan that will again grow City Year Washington, DC’s size and impact to reach at least half of the students who drop out of school in Washington.