EVERY FOUR years, Independent Sector surveys volunteer participation and giving to charitable causes among young people. It provides a useful companion to a similar survey of adults, which this year shows that young people outpace adults in their volunteer activities. That's something grown-ups should keep in mind next time they utter those timeless complaints that the younger generation is going to the dogs.
In 1996, 59 percent of teen-agers reported volunteering in the past year, compared to only 49 percent of adults. Boys and girls volunteered in almost equal numbers, while adult volunteers were more likely to be female than male.
Both surveys found a worrisome drop in volunteerism among minorities. Among African American teen-agers, participation dropped from 53 percent to 42 percent, while African American adults recorded a drop from 43 percent participation to 35 percent.
Yet couple this with another finding -- that overwhelming numbers of adults and young people participate when they are asked to volunteer -- and the problem may lie more with institutions and groups that need help.
Teen-agers are more trusting than adults of society's institutions -- especially Congress and other institutions involved in the political process. But the institutions and programs that rank highest in their esteem are those in which they are personally involved. Recreation programs, youth development organizations, private higher education and religious organizations all scored particularly well.
The survey was Independent Sector's second quadrennial effort chart the participation and attitudes of young people. The picture will become more refined as more studies are done. But already the data offers some lessons.
Young people are hungry for positive ways to contribute to society. Compared to adults, their enthusiasm is less dampened by cynicism. In addition to their skills and enthusiasm, they offer other qualities this society needs to cultivate -- hope that things can be better and an eagerness to make a difference. The key lies in showing them how.
Pub Date: 12/25/96