The Ann Arbor YMCA’s Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) began through a competitive grant process from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation in 1994. YVC is a youth driven organization dedicated to providing opportunities for middle and high school aged youth to engage in meaningful service learning activities that meet real community needs, foster leadership development and teamwork while promoting a lifelong ethic of volunteerism and a commitment to social justice.
Programming is year around and has four major components. The Alternative Projects are one-time service projects that provide constructive “alternatives” for youth after school and on weekends. The Youth Advisory Council (YAC) is a youth leadership program and YVC’s governing body. The Chain of Plenty is a unique four partner collaborative to engage special needs students in service learning while simultaneously feeding the homeless each week. Expanding Horizons is YVC’s intensive summer program that engages youth in weeklong blocks of service activities throughout Washtenaw County in teams often youth and one adult Team Leader.
With all program components combined in 1999, YVC engaged almost 300 youth in contributing over 8,500 hours of direct service to 26 agencies in the Washtenaw County community. Some of the projects included: staffing the playroom at SAFEHouse Domestic Violence Shelter for the summer, serving meals with the Ann Arbor Hunger Coalition, sorting food at Food Gatherers, painting a house with Habitat for Humanity, assisting residents at Glacier Hills Nursing Home and Baker Commons Residential Facility, gardening and weeding at Leslie Science Center, Dawn Farms, and Cobblestone Farms, and assisting the Red Cross with their annual Swim-A-Thon. Youth volunteers need to have constructive and productive programs where they can feel that they are a valuable asset to their community and can see the benefits of engaging in positive behavior.
Each YVC project consists of an agency orientation so that the youth volunteers are educated about community agencies and about how their volunteering benefits the work of that agency. Additionally, in the process of service learning, youth volunteers participate in a reflection activity at the completion of the project. During reflection, volunteers are able to ask any questions they have and discuss things they have learned. But most significantly, reflection gives the youth volunteers the opportunity to process the day’s events and to realize the benefit of their work for the community. In this manner, YVC helps the community with direct service, but also by providing youth with many of the Search Institute’s Forty Developmental Assets necessary to make good choices about their lives.
YVC is a completely free program for youth in grades six through twelve. All activities are open to any interested youth in this age range regardless of class, race, gender, ethnicity or economic status. All projects are available to all participants and their families, therefore providing opportunities for mobilizing everyone to volunteer. YVC and all of its components are ongoing throughout both the academic year and the summer months. There is no limit on the number of projects in which a volunteer can participate.