Positive Effects of Volunteering at a Young Age

By: Katie V.

Have you ever volunteered at an older age for the first time and felt a sense of self-worth? Have you wondered why you haven’t offered more to the community? Volunteering at any age has many positive outcomes for an individual. In our youth development class, we discussed the values youth can gain by volunteering. For the youth who volunteer, they  can attain a wide variety of values. Improving various skills, positivity, and academic performance, and connecting with their community. Feeling a sense of giving at a young age, in my opinion, can help a child grow and can develop behaviours, attitudes and skills that will be useful for a child’s future.

I come from a small town in Nova Scotia and had not even been introduced to volunteering or encouraged to volunteer for events or activities at a young age. The first time I had volunteered for anything was not until my first year in university. It was for the New Brunswick Special Olympics. After experiencing how good that made me feel, a sense of inner peace, I wondered to myself why I hadn’t done more for people at a younger age. If experiencing mental and spiritual benefits from volunteering at an older age, I can only imagine how the knowledge, growth, and outcomes youth can experience from volunteering when they are younger. Therefore, I wanted to see if there were more opportunities in other places in Canada for youth to experience these positive effects from volunteering.

I had found an interesting initiative by the Government of Ontario that started in 1999. They began requiring all high school students to complete 40 hours of community involvement in order to graduate. Students were informed of the community involvement requirements while in grades 7 and 8, however, they were not able to start completing the hours for credit until their grade 9 year.

In the article titled, “Mandated Community Involvement: A Question of Equity,” it states that this was primarily designed to build students’ personal responsibility and to strengthen the qualities assumed to drive individual success: “the requirement will benefit communities, but its primary purpose is to contribute to students’ development” (Toronto, ON: MET, 1999).

Debates went on about whether students should be forced to volunteer as mandated community involvement. Research conducted since 1999 found that early involvement in community service helps students build a spirit of civic responsibility which can then be expanded as they move throughout high school. This led to a minor change in the community involvement graduation requirement. Beginning July 1st, 2011, students were then allowed to start accumulating their community involvement hours in the summer before they entered grade 9.

As we talked about in class, I think this volunteer requirement supports youth acquiring a few of the developmental assets: young people recognizing that adults value them, youth being seen and utilized as resources to the community, youth performing service to others and also caring for others. I found this case to be very interesting in the fact that, I would have liked my high school to have had such a requirement. Ontario’s Minister of Education, in my opinion, did a great job in providing opportunities for the youth to volunteer. Research states that in 2007, the students who had recently graduated found that the requirement did not harbor negative attitudes about the enforced nature of the community involvement, and that the program had been successful in mobilizing students who otherwise would not have volunteered (Henderson, Brown, Pancer, & Ellis-Hale, 2007).

As well, this article reflects on “Youth Voice”. We discussed this topic in our youth development class. Youth voice a process which provides youth the opportunity to communicate, and be considered in the implementation of programs and services. Volunteering and being involved in community gives youth a chance to have different levels of voice leading to positive development. Youth also learn how to work with adults. Additionally, the students in the high schools of Ontario were asked, in class, to write reflections about their community involvement in short papers or journal form. This allowed the students to explore their thoughts on volunteering, social problems within their community, and contributed to further strengthen the developmental outcomes of their involvement.

I found this case study to be engaging. Mandatory community involvement should be implemented in more high schools today. The government of Ontario operates through the Student Success strategy which helps strengthen student’s engagement in education and learning through programs and policies (e.g., through cooperative education and community involvement). Such involvement may increase the relevance of learning and encourage students to develop closer links to their community (Costante, 2011).  Lastly, I think the positive effects of volunteering in high school gives youth more opportunity to find what they might pursue in the future and help in career decision making.

 Reference/Additional Readings



Ontario Ministry of Education and Training, Ontario Secondary Schools Grades 9 to 12 Program and Diploma Requirements (Toronto, ON: MET, 1999).

Henderson, A, Brown, S. D., Pancer, S. M., & Ellis-Hale, K. (2007). Mandated Community Service in High School and Subsequent Civic Engagement: The Case of the “Double Cohort” in Ontario.

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7 Responses to Positive Effects of Volunteering at a Young Age

  1. r3cwk says:

    I myself have graduated from an Ontario High school and I strongly believe that those 40 hours of voluntary work can be really beneficial. 40 hours over a span of potentially 4 years is really not that difficult. Within one year, you can even accumulate all your needed hours if you volunteer once a week for an hour.
    My school went out of their way to provide as many different opportunities to accumulate those hours outside of the school. We had ties with certain organizations like Salvation Army, troubled youth centers and even the City of Ottawa services. There would always be a posting on our boards for a needed volunteer. They ranged from volunteering at a local mall to build gingerbread houses with kids and try to sell them for a fundraiser, to working at a language center to help immigrants feel more comfortable speaking English and participating in activities in Ottawa.
    I rarely ever hear people complain about not being able to complete these hours. There is on occasion a student that comes to the realization that year that they only have several hours accumulated, but it can be easily rectified especially with some volunteering events lasting many hours. These students either were preoccupied with their other activities (many hours towards a high performance sport) to simply using most of their spare time hanging out with friends or staying at home with little other high yielding activities.
    I’m glad to see that reception for volunteering has been more positive than negative because I find it opens up to some really cool opportunities, especially in large cities where there is a lot of variety to choose from.

    -Amelie R.

  2. u95jq says:

    I agree, I think all youth should have mandatory volunteer hours, Many youth do not recognize the value of volunteering because they never have the opportunity to volunteer. I think that all high schools should learn from Ontario high school and put in required volunteer hours. Volunteering not only helps youth expand their developmental assets but as well as discover what they truly enjoy in life; some may find out what they want to do and where they want to go to university or college. I volunteered in an elementary school during high school and I ended up helping out a lot in the phys. ed. classes that was when I realized that that was what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a phys. ed. teacher.
    There are so many places and contexts for youth to volunteer with now that even if it was just one hour a week they would gain so much experience that some youth would not gain from school or sitting at home.
    Great post.

    Emily M

  3. I think that a mandatory volunteer program in high schools is a great idea. Seeing from the benefits listed by Katie, it’s hard to understand why this type of program isn’t more widely conducted. I volunteered much of my time as a youth through youth groups and church activities but I would never had been a part of that had my family not introduced me to those groups.

    While I agree that a program like this should be in place everywhere, I do wonder about a few things. Volunteering with the youth group was rarely for my benefit yet it did satisfy some of those assets of personal well-being and spiritual growth. The only thing I question about the program though is what constitutes the volunteer aspect of the program? Is the program more of a gateway to youth to introduce them to the importance of volunteerism? I guess that’s where the debate about issues with the program comes into play because once you make something “mandatory”, can it be considered “volunteering”? Also, I always considered that volunteering was done to help others and not necessarily for ones’ own benefit (unexpected personal benefits aside); yet, the students aren’t able to be rewarded with a graduate diploma until their volunteer hours are completed. It seems to be an incentive-based program to get students to volunteer.

    Of course it’s helping! But it sort of seems like it’s being forced on the students.

  4. sarahholt4 says:

    I agree that volunteering can be very beneficial to youth. We also have to make sure that someone doesn’t just stick a child with a program or place and just assume that they are going to enjoy it. If the child has no interest in the place they are doing their volunteering at, they will receive a negative feeling and just assume that every volunteer situation is going to be the same. Another positive outcome is that it could help you get your foot in the door for future jobs. If someone shows interest at a young age and enjoys volunteering regularly, and creates strong relationships, it could in time lead to a profession with that certain company.

    Along with other people, I do believe that all schools should have some type of program in their high school involved with volunteering. But I also agree with Mackenzie when he stated that it might be seen as just a “mandatory” task. It is not considered volunteering if kids feel like they are “forced” to do it.

    I like your discussion about “Youth Voice”. It does feel good to know that you as a child has actually influenced in a programs decision making process, or helped make something happen! Great post!
    Sarah H.

  5. Volunteering at a young age can encourage compassion, a good work ethic, and a sense of belonging within a community. Youth who feel valued and needed by their community are less likely to get involved with devious behaviors. When kids are encouraged to volunteer they expand their social networks, gain community resources and leadership skills. Mandatory volunteer hours for students are an excellent way to get the kids demonstrating what they have learned over the years. It can be a positive experience, where kids can be intrinsically motivated, and feel as if they themselves have accomplished something by giving back. Many youth do not understand what a reward is unless it is a physical object. Through volunteering youth can create relationships with a variety of age groups a long with a diverse group of people. Knowing how to help, without wanting a reward or a thank you, can instill values that create a well-rounded human being.

  6. Ashley LeGresley
    My whole life I have been volunteering at various different fundraisers, activities, you name it I’ve probably done it. My parents have always volunteered in our community and when we were really young we came along and helped with what we could depending on our age.
    My first memory of actually volunteering was with my parents at the Sheppard’s Lunch Room on Thanksgiving when I was 5. Although I couldn’t do much, I still felt like I did a really good thing and helped someone out. At this event my parents or another older volunteer put food on a plate, and I took the plates to the different tables to serve the homeless in our community. It wasn’t a hard job, and certainly someone 5 years old could carry a plate of food from a counter to a table.
    From then, I participated in my church by reading on different Sundays and became a altar server helping the priest with the service. Again, not hard jobs, but jobs that young people can do and can do well.
    By instilling in me that helping others is something we all should do at such a young age, I have continued my volunteering into adulthood. Volunteering has taught me so many things and has made me the person I am today. It has taught me honesty, patience, responsibility, caring along with many many many others.
    I know that when I have children, I will pass onto them the importance of giving back to others and will involve them in as many volunteering activities that I can starting at a young age like my parents.
    Not only has volunteering made me feel good about myself, but has opened so many doors for me for different opportunities that wouldn’t have been available if I hadn’t volunteered. It has given me the chance to network with some really great people and has led to some great jobs for me. So not only are you giving to others but you are also receiving so much in return. It’s a win-win situation!

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