There's nothing more encouraging for us at the Youth Trust than when we hear of a young person 'being the change they want to see' in their school or local community. Just recently we were amazed by a group of primary school pupils from Cumbria who wrote to their local council asking for more bins and signs to tackle the issue of litter in the community. As a result they then worked with the local police as a part of a litter campaign and were involved in painting a mural on a large local garage to raise awareness. What a fantastic example!
It's true that there is an overwhelming desire among young people today to make a difference in their communities or volunteer in practical ways, but so often they lack the opportunity or support to be able to put this desire into action. Mahatma Gandhi once said;
"It's the action, not the fruit of the action, that's important...you may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result".
Taking positive action to bring about change in our communities is key for our society. However, I think there is even more to what Gandhi is saying here. When I think of young people (or anyone for that matter) who have volunteered or served others in some way, there has always been fruit from the action. Yes, they may never know the full impact of their actions, but they can certainly see and feel the fruit in their own lives as a result of the volunteering. A headteacher in a school I know, regularly quotes a bible verse from the book of Luke that sums this up nicely;
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. Luke 6 v 38
Our Young Leaders Award thrives through this model, providing young people with meaningful opportunities to volunteer and make a difference in other people's lives, and what's more this act of volunteering ends up having a profound effect on them as well. More often than not they do see a direct result from their volunteering as they serve in hospices, raise money for charities, organise community events, offer to put neighbours recycling away or look out for the elderly down their street. But, at the same time the fruit seen in their own lives as a direct result of the experience of 'serving others', can be truly transformational.
"I have gained confidence, am now a better decision maker, and am able to work well under pressure with all sorts of people. It has developed my compassion and interpersonal skills and I am now far more organised. I am a better listener and have learnt new ways of leading a team towards the best possible outcome"
KS4 Young Leaders Award student
For me this personal and character development in young people is absolutely essential and goes way beyond their education and schooling and into the heart of who they really are as a person.
Over the past three years I've had the privilege of taking groups of 15-16 year olds to Romania to work in a number of Hospices set up by UK charity Cry in the Dark.The week long residential is full of volunteering opportunities and sees the students lead workshops with orphans and vulnerable adults suffering from life-limiting illnesses, alongside visiting patients in their homes and taking part in renovation projects to help support those living in poverty. Not only do the students make a tangible difference in the lives of those who they meet during the week, but they are also transformed through the experience and speak of how their lives have been changed forever. They continue to volunteer and support the charity and I know the impact of this volunteering will be far reaching; challenging them in the way they think, the things they go on to do and most importantly empowering them to 'be the change they want to see' in this world.
Dan Finn - Youth Trust Director