Building Active Citizens: The Role of Social Institutions in Teen Volunteering

Corporation for National and Community Service

At a time when many are worried that the United States is experiencing a general decline in civic and political engagement, volunteering appears particularly strong among today's young people.

While volunteering is just one form of community involvement, research has shown that it is often connected to other forms of engagement, and, among youth, volunteering plays a valuable role in shaping how youth learn to interact with their community and develop the skills, values, and sense of empowerment necessary to become active citizens. 

In an effort to better understand the attitudes and behaviors of young people in America around volunteering, service-learning and other forms of community involvement, the Corporation for National and Community Service, in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau and Independent Sector, conducted the Youth Volunteering and Civic Engagement Survey (the Youth Volunteering Survey), a national survey of American youth.

Between January and March of 2005, 3,178 Americans between the ages of 12 and 18 were asked about their volunteer activities and experiences with school-based service-learning projects, as well as their involvement with school, family, religious congregations, and community associations.

The following report will highlight the state of youth volunteering and consider the relationship between youth volunteer behavior and three primary environments where youth form their social networks: family, religious organizations, and school. These social institutions play an essential role in connecting youth to volunteer opportunities and encouraging them to become engaged in service. Fostering environments that encourage volunteer activities are critical to creating a commitment to service and community involvement that will remain with them for their lifetime. Through this analysis, we look to build on existing research that has demonstrated that connections to the community and volunteering form a positive feedback loop, whereby opportunities provided to youth to engage with others leads to a greater sense of reciprocity and trust that in turn leads youth to develop a personal ethic of community engagement.

Pedagogical Area
  • service learning
Subject Area
  • leadership development, civics, political science
Delivery Area
  • out of school time/after school
  • community education
Outcome Area
  • civic engagement
  • self efficacy
  • stewardship behavior
  • community change
Participant Area
  • community
Age Area
  • middle school (12-14 years old)
  • high school (14-18 years old)
  • undergraduate