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Volunteerism still strong

Arizona teens continue to give of their time regardless of economy

Arizona teens continue to give of their time regardless of economy

January 06, 2009|By PATTY MACHELOR / Arizona Daily Star

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Tucson teens are helping out.

Homebound seniors, the poor and the hungry are among many in Tucson benefiting from their time and energy.

And the teens say they are also learning important lessons about life through their work.

Youth volunteerism here has increased more than 20 percent in three years, said Dave Chandler, assistant director of youth services for the Volunteer Center of Southern Arizona.

Nearly 800 teens, ages 11 to 18, have helped the community through the center this year, he said.

Nationally, the teen volunteer rate has also increased in recent years. Nearly 29 percent of older teenagers, ages 16 to 19, volunteered at some point in 2006 compared to 13 percent of teens in 1989, the Corporation for National and Community Service reports.

Chandler finds the numbers encouraging, especially since many nonprofit organizations are using volunteers more due to the recession.

"If you can catch the volunteering bug when you're young, that will be an ethic, a value that you'll carry with you well into adulthood," he said.

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AmeriCorps volunteer Michelle Lesco, 25, helps find and create jobs for teens at the Volunteer Center.

For the holidays this year, a volunteer song and dance group performed at nursing homes, where she said statistics show about 60 percent of the residents have no visitors at all.

"That's something we really try to get through to our kids," she said. "It's everyone's civic responsibility to know about community needs."

Amber Reyes lives at Posada Del Sol Health Care Center, where the Volunteer Center performers visited.

"It was great. I really enjoyed it," said Reyes, 31, who lives at the center because she is disabled. "It makes a big difference to see young kids come in, especially for the older residents."

Naomi Vernon, a senior at Catalina Foothills High School, has learned about community needs through a Jewish teen philanthropy program called B'nai Tzedek Tucson.

Vernon, 17, said she was skeptical of the program at first, but then she helped restore a Habitat for Humanity house. She loved the idea of a family in need moving into the refurbished home.

"I hadn't expected to be so inspired by it, but I just felt great about it, that I was actually helping somebody else," she said.

The Jewish Community Foundation administers endowment funds for the teens and gives them a 5 percent interest rate. Each year the teens donate a portion of their funds to those in need. This year, 61 made contributions.

Jonah Rockowitz, a ninth-grader at Catalina Foothills High School, chose hunger as his issue. "I've seen things in society that I don't like, and one of them is hunger," he said.

Abby Foss, the program's coordinator, said B'nai Tzedek helps instill in young people an understanding of the Jewish obligation to give and to help. There are 92 teens participating here.

"Particularly in these dark economic times when people are hurting in Tucson and around the world, it is all the more important that we keep with one of the meanings of Hanukkah and bring light to those who need it most," Foss said.

Adults often mistakenly assume young people are not interested in the community or in helping, said Judith Anderson, president of Every Voice in Action.

"We suggest that the community focus on building a strong support system for youth as they work to improve their lives, develop their potential and contribute to the community," she said.

Every Voice in Action is a Tucson foundation that provides grants to nonprofit organizations. The foundation's youth crew helps decide where the money should go.

"Being aware gives you more of a sense of empowerment and that's what I love about Every Voice," said youth crew member Antonia Agbannawag, who is a senior at Salpointe Catholic High School.

Last year, Agbannawag, 17, voted for funding comprehensive sex education for teens. This year, her focus is on the environment.

Over the past eight years, the youth crew -- which averages about 15 teens -- has funded topics ranging from homelessness to discrimination to sex education, said program manager Marie Fordney.

Erin Collier, 43, oversees a similar program called Unidas through a contract with the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona.

Collier teaches young females ages 14 to 18 about leadership, philanthropy and social justice.

They also learn about the grant-making process and this year awarded $10,000 to nonprofits through funding from the Lovell Foundation and Every Voice in Action.

"It's very important to help girls find their voice and most importantly to honor their voice once they find it," Collier said. "We're training the next generation of philanthropists."

Isabella Lowery, 17, is a home-schooled high school senior who is in her third year with Unidas. She also serves on the board for the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona.

"I didn't realize how much nonprofit organizations did for the community and what it takes to run the program, to get money and to keep it going," she said.

Anderson of Every Voice said parents who wish to instill a sense of caring in their children should take action while they're young.

"Talk together about why you care about other people and about your community," she said. "The amount of money or time you can give doesn't matter as long as you do something to make your world a better place, and have fun doing it."

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