When I first started working in the Youth in Service department, the main reason I wanted to work with teens was a fairly typical one: they are the future and I wanted to teach them to be good citizens.

Now, more than 2 1/2  years later, I have to say that although my initial reason for wanting to work with teens still holds true, I’ve come to really enjoy the unique traits they bring to volunteer experiences. I feel like a bit of an anomaly saying that, but it’s true. What I love most about teens is that they have so many facets to their personalities, and after you spend time with them you get to better see what they’re about.

They are extremely passionate.
One of the biggest stereotypes about teenagers is that they are lazy. And yes, while I do remember the (many) days in high school where I would take a nap after school until dinnertime, I think that this stereotype is largely a misconception. After volunteer projects, I’ve had students ask to come back and volunteer again, inquire about summer jobs, and even start their own service club at their school.

What I’ve found is that once a teenager starts caring about something and talking about it, it is very hard to get them to stop. They care and they want you to care as much as they do – and once they start talking about their volunteer project, it’s very refreshing and often the start of a lot of good conversation.

They always have excellent questions that challenge me.
Simultaneously, the best and most difficult thing about leading projects with teenagers is answering their questions. At projects, I’ve had a variety of questions asked ranging from “Why do homeless people ask for money instead of going out and getting a job” to “Why do seniors like bingo so much?” My goal is to answer these questions without reinforcing stereotypes, in a way that is clear enough to understand, and in a way that is short enough to keep their attention. It’s a daunting task – and not always one I complete flawlessly.

However, one of the reasons I love these questions is that is causes me to continuously think about these issues – Why does this matter? Why am I doing this? Why should I care? Each question lets me reflect, and as a result allows me to stay passionate in a job where you can’t always see immediate results.

It’s a time when they try to find themselves and develop as an individual.
When I was a teenager, I started volunteering on a whim, and since then it has always played a huge role in my life. Personally, volunteering has given me some of the best friends I have ever had. Professionally, volunteering taught me patience, relationship building skills, leadership, organization, conflict resolution skills, problem solving skills, how to be a team player, and how to get through the dirty work to get a job done. What I love about volunteering is the potential of not only what it gives to others, but how it can affect you.

That is what I try to show these youth volunteers whenever I lead a project – yes, it is volunteer work, but it can be exciting work, where you can have fun, think, learn, and make a positive impact on others all at the same time. The best parts of my job are when I hear a student say at a project, “I thought this would be boring, but I had a lot of fun.” It’s a small statement, but it makes me happy that they are slowly moving over to the other side.

Do you want to learn more and or try your hand in leading and volunteering with youth? On Saturday, May 5, Chicago Cares is participating in Chicago Youth Service Day, where over 3000 teens and young adults will be volunteering around the city to make a positive impact. We are looking for volunteer leaders who can help them see the effect they are making and evoke change. If you are interested, we encourage you to sign up for our Youth in Service Leader Training, taking place just a few weeks before, on Saturday, April 21.

Today’s post is by Youth in Service Manager, Joyce Cruz.