I have always admired how young people see the world.
In their eyes, our society is not so divided and the challenges we face are not insurmountable. Every day they learn something new. They see something that’s different from what they experienced the day before. They live in a world of change and they find excitement in it.
As children become teenagers, that sense of exploration grows, and with it, they gain a sense of power to affect their world. They find themselves old enough to know what is right and what is wrong, and young enough to believe they can make a difference. This is a critical time in their lives, and with guidance, their desire for change can become a passion that lasts a lifetime.
For 30 years, young people have inspired me and the mission of YVC — Youth Volunteer Corps. They will do so again Saturday in Kansas City and across North America as part of YVC Day, an annual celebration of the impact of youth volunteers.
Under the guidance of the YMCA, a diverse team of young people from across the Kansas City metro area will serve meals to the destitute at the Kansas City Community Kitchen. For the youth, it will be a real-world education — exposing them, some for the first time, to unfamiliar people, the problems of hunger and poverty, and neighborhoods very unlike their own. Clients at the kitchen will see an inclusive, hardworking team that demonstrates their caring and shared humanity.
Service like this gives youth volunteers an opportunity to take ownership of problems they did not create, but have inherited. By showing them in real time that their efforts make a difference, young people see that they have the power to create positive change for their neighbors and themselves. They see that they can build bridges that connect and strengthen society, while our leaders often focus on barriers that divide us.
Since its founding in 1987 as a Kansas City summer program, Youth Volunteer Corps has helped more than 300,000 teens connect with their communities, giving back with nearly 5 million hours of service across North America.
In Kansas City, more than 25,000 young people ages 11 to 18 have spent half a million hours tutoring disadvantaged children, socializing with the elderly, feeding the hungry and beautifying public spaces. Their hard work has changed the lives of Kansas Citians, and it has proven the value of youth leadership in our community.
They have taken ownership of the problems their community faces. In some ways, these young people have been a greater force for change than the adults who are responsible for the troubles.
On Saturday, thousands of youth volunteers will once again take the lead and work to solve the problems of their communities from Alberta, Canada to South Carolina. The issues these teens face — including poverty, drug abuse and pollution — have no quick and easy answers.
Undoubtedly, our chance of solving these problems is greatly improved by the hard work, empathy and understanding that result from their service. Even though the issues in our society may seem greater today than ever before, we can overcome what divides us as we guide our young people’s passion.
As I have done for more than 30 years, I encourage everyone to find inspiration in the young people in their lives. Their passion for change is infectious.
David Battey is president of Youth Volunteer Corps, which he founded in 1987.