Teen Volunteerism: A Model for America

by Tami Rudder, Gallup Poll Correspondent

During his first State of the Union address on Jan. 29, President Bush urged all Americans to devote 4,000 hours or two years to volunteering over the courses of their lives. A Gallup Youth Survey* indicates that a large proportion of American teens were already inclined to do so.

The survey indicates that community service is a high priority among American teens, with close to half (48%) volunteering in some capacity. This percentage includes teens who perform community service to fulfill a school requirement (many schools have added mandatory service-learning requirements to their curriculums), those who work independently with local agencies, and teens volunteering in both scenarios.

In 1997, retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, President Bill Clinton and several former presidents and first ladies founded America's Promise, a national volunteer organization designed to help build the character and competence in America's youth. A major goal of America's Promise is to create opportunities for youth to give back through community service, with the hope that youth volunteerism will benefit the community and give young people real-world experience that will help them become successful adults. Gallup data indicate a connection between youth volunteerism and high academic achievement, which could potentially lead to increased success in adulthood. Teens saying they have high academic standing are more likely than their lower- performing peers to perform both school-sponsored community service (34% versus 27%) and non-school community service (38% versus 24%).

About half of teens also seem to believe that mandatory community service would benefit themselves and the nation as a whole. As illustrated in the trend above, 51% would favor a one-year commitment of community or military service for all young Americans.

*Interviews were conducted with 500 American teens, ages 13 to 17 years old from April-June 2000 for the Gallup Youth Survey. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 5 percentage points.

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