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How Can Youth Be Successfully Engaged in Service?

Organizations hoping to involve youth need to think about their goals and the tasks they want to accomplish, and about whether youth can fulfill the roles necessary to accomplish them. Troppe and Michel (2002) suggest that “focusing on the skills needed rather than the age of the potential volunteer is a critical first step toward changing an organization’s mindset about who can get a job done” (p. 17) and that “with that in mind, it is critical for agencies to think outside conventional boundaries and open up multiple opportunities and roles for young people.” (p. 18)

Practices and strategies for engaging youth

Regardless of the community, effective practices for engaging youth include the following:

Youth can provide added energy, ideas, and value to organizations through youth volunteering efforts, but there can be substantial barriers to the success of youth engagement. Troppe and Michel (2002) highlight ways that organizations can address issues and barriers during the initial stages of youth involvement in service, based on their review of successful youth volunteering organizations. These include the following strategies:

  • Provide adults with advice about how to work with youth, and youth advice about how to work with adults.
  • Openly discuss stereotypes that youth may have about adults, and that adults may have about youth.
  • Practice “shared power” (i.e., shared responsibility for activities).
  • Establish clearly defined roles and responsibilities for adults and youth.
  • Establish clear decision-making processes that ensure youth are included in meaningful ways.
  • Pay careful attention to logistical issues that may affect youth participation, including lack of transportation and conflicts with school and work schedules. Incentives—even simple ones, like food—can also make a difference.


Troppe, C., & Michel, J. (2002). Engaging youth in lifelong service: Findings and recommendations for encouraging a tradition of voluntary action among America’s youth. Independent Sector. Retrieved from http://www.independentsector.org/uploads/Resources/engaging_youth.pdf (PDF, 40 Pages)
Hathi, S., & Bhaerman, B. (n.d). Effective practices for engaging at-risk youth in service. Youth Service America.

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