For the Win is a guest blog series featuring the remarkable initiatives that young Americans are advancing to win the future for their communities. Each week we highlight a new young person and learn about their inspiring work through their own words. Submit your story to appear in the For the Win guest blog series.
The challenges facing the United States are huge and the statistics can be daunting. Kids run away from home at the rate of one every minute. More than 650,000 people will experience homelessness tonight. One in four women will be a victim of domestic violence. On the other hand, as I have seen while spending the past six months traveling the country and volunteering at nonprofits, there is also a plethora of volunteers and voluntary organizations working daily to create a strong safety net for those who need it.
I have been volunteering since I was 4-years-old when my mom brought me to read with her at a preschool class of children from low-income families. I recited my favorite book, Good Night Moon, from memory, turning the page at all the appropriate times. Even at that young age I realized how good it felt to share my stories; to help others. That day I began a life-long commitment to service.
Being a young volunteer certainly doesn’t make me unusual or unique. Teens volunteer at a rate of 55 percent, which is much higher than the adult rate of 29 percent. We may get our news from Comedy Central and Facebook, but we are the most aware and connected generation ever. So why is it that from comic strips to portraits of young starlets in trouble, we are still often stereotyped as video game addicted couch potatoes?
Do Good Adventure is an initiative to promote teen volunteerism that consists of four primary elements: a promotional road trip, a website (www.dogoodadventure.com), a web-based contest for teens to win money for the organization of their choice and a public engagement campaign of media outreach and social networking. Since September, I have been on a road trip of more than 12,000 miles during which I have been volunteering at nonprofits across the United States. By March 2012, I will have volunteered for 20 organizations in different communities, spending three to five days with each. The organizations address a variety of needs including combating homelessness, literacy, animal protection and environmental care. Amongst other projects, I have mucked horse pastures at the country’s largest no-kill animal shelter in Utah, served food to homeless families at a soup kitchen in New York City, installed energy efficient light bulbs in homes in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans and assembled beds for victims of domestic violence at a safe house in St. Louis, Mo.
I have learned a lot of lessons while I have been on the road. The most important ones came from seeing first-hand how extraordinarily beautiful and diverse our country is and learning how many organizations and individuals are committed to making it, and the rest of our planet, even better. It is to our advantage if we engage teens in meaningful community service. Adults who report volunteering when they were in their youth are twice as likely to volunteer as adults compared to people who had not been civically involved when they were younger. Just think how we could impact our future if each teen were to find his or her volunteer passion today.
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Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director in the White House Office of Public Engagement.