Get Your Teens To Succeed: Encourage Them To Volunteer!

Career DevelopmentEducationSuccess Strategies

“It’s Cool To Be Kind” –Beth Kuhel

Best Buddies International and Friendship Circle International (FC) are not your typical volunteer organizations: Teen volunteers provide life altering friendship, companionship and mentoring for special needs children. The scope of activities is customized to the needs of the families and to the skill level of the teen volunteers. While some families receive much-needed support in caring for their special needs children’s day to day activities, other families see the joy of friendship and play dates for their children. Alternatively, the teen volunteers get a chance to make a significant difference in these families’ lives.  It’s a win-win situation: Special needs families’ gain support in raising their kids and the volunteers see the impact they can have in alleviating suffering through being kind, reliable and attentive.

Although not the primary motivating reason that teens volunteer, teenage volunteers benefit from participating in Best Buddies and FC in innumerable practical ways. While building a friendship with a child who can’t make a friend on his own, volunteers develop certain desirable character traits that experts say predict success in college and the workplace. Volunteering for these organizations (and for others like them) adds to the quality and strength of our society as a whole. It also helps participants stand out from their competitors in college admissions and when applying for internships and jobs.

A WSJ’s recent article, How Altruism Could Help Get You Hired, highlights that hiring managers value problem solving skills that students develop through volunteerism.

Anita Hofschneider writes that career advisers often tout the value of internships in securing a full-time job. But a new survey from Deloitte shows that more altruistic pursuits might also help candidates get hired.

According to the survey of 202 human-resource executives, skilled volunteer work—such as helping a nonprofit with its finances—makes job applicants look more appealing to hiring managers.

For recent college graduates, skilled volunteer work could set them apart from the competition; yet less than half of college seniors say they have considered volunteerism as a way to develop their skills for future jobs, according to the survey.

Some 12.6% of Americans 20 to 24 years old are unemployed, but according to a 2012 Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis, less than one-fifth of them volunteer, the lowest percentage of any age group.

Recruiters and job seekers don’t seem to be on the same page when it comes to the value of service. Of the executives surveyed, more than 80% said they would be more likely to hire a graduate with skilled volunteer experience. But fewer than half of college seniors surveyed by Deloitte said they had thought about volunteering to increase their marketability.

The company also surveyed more than 100 members of the U.S. armed forces who will be entering the job market in a few months, and found that most hadn’t considered volunteering as a way to improve their prospects, either.

The findings illuminate an important gap that, if bridged, could benefit nonprofits, employers and job seekers, said Evan Hochberg, national director of community engagement at Deloitte. “Problem solving and gaining perspective is not unique to one sector.”

The question remains, how do parents help bridge the gap for their teens from being selfish teenagers to mature citizens who contribute to society? After all, teenagers are notorious for getting a bad rap.  Dan Schawbel, noted by the N.Y Times as the “personal branding guru”, works tirelessly to break the stereotype of gen y (those born between 1982 till 1994) as the entitled generation. They are faulted for being glued to their technology, poor in caring on meaningful conversations, self-centered, oblivious to the greater needs of society and uninterested in adding value and make a meaningful contribution somewhere.

Dan claims this is an inaccurate description of this generation yet unfortunately it’s the impression that the most baby boomers have of gen yer’s (and they are often the gatekeepers for college admissions, internships and jobs). Volunteering has been shown to break some of these preconceived misconceptions about teens.

As a career coach, I have experience working with college admissions officers at some of the nation’s top Universities as well as with corporate recruiters and hiring managers.  The consensus is that the most successful candidates are those who have developed certain character traits (through experiences in high school) that are seen as predictors for success in both college and in today’s workplace.

College admissions officers and hiring managers are looking for many of the same qualities in prospective students and new hires and many of these attributes can be developed through volunteerism. They seek candidates who demonstrate these abilities; prioritizing multiple tasks, solving complex problems, innovating and collaborating, identifying a problem and fixing it, being punctual and accountable, empathizing with peers and co-workers, and putting their needs aside for someone else’s.  All of these qualities are known to bode well for students when they enter college and later when they seek employment.

It’s not too early to start developing these character traits while in high school. Volunteering for Best Buddies, FC or for other well run non-profits is a great avenue for young people to develop these positive character traits.

On a personal note, several of my clients were active in Friendship Circle throughout their middle school and high school years and I noticed they learned valuable lessons that continue to benefit them today:

1. It taught them the importance of being punctual and responsible:  Their special friend counted on them to arrive at a certain time every week. All the kids understood that it was imperative for them to come on time with a positive attitude and with a flexible game plan to engage their friend. Arriving late was completely unacceptable as their friend with special needs relied on them to be a consistently accountable, loyal, and trustworthy friend. They knew that their visit was the highlight of their friend’s week.

2. Getting involved in these organizations helped them appreciate their own good health.

3. It strengthened their acceptance and empathy towards people who are different.

4.  It empowered them to see they could have a profound impact on other peoples’ lives simply by being kind, reliable and committed to fostering a friendship.

5. It built their self-esteem from the accolades they received from the family, their special needs friend and from their parents who regularly acknowledged how proud they were of them for their commitment to Friendship Circle and to their special friend.

6. It helped them build a good name in their community for being a caring person.

7. They developed a sense of responsibility for improving their community and fostered a desire to continue to be actively involved in philanthropic organizations while in college.

If you’re a student or the parent of a student who wants to stand out from the sea of applicants, you would be wise to explore what volunteering for one of these organizations could do for your teen as well as for your community: I strongly recommend talking with one of the administrators of these programs for how your teen can get involved in Best Buddies or Friendship Circle. Once you meet them, you’ll see for yourself that this is an incredible opportunity for your teen to learn skills that will strengthen their character and allow them to experience the wonderment of making a difference in someone’s life. Let the world know FC’s tagline, “It’s Cool To Be Kind!”

If your kids are interested in volunteering take a step back, let it be their good deed, praise them regularly for their good work and enjoy watching them grow!

More information about Best Buddies International.

More information about Friendship Circle International.

For more articles on the value of volunteerism in the workplace and related articles see: