August 12 is International Youth Day, a United Nations effort to celebrate youth activists, combat ageism and help bridge gaps between generations working toward the same change.
No matter your age, it’s likely you’ve questioned your ability to make a difference. Our research shows that 73% of people believe that volunteering is more important than ever, yet 66% think they can’t make a big impact in their communities. Activists on the ground prove otherwise. That’s why we recognize thousands of volunteers for their contributions to their communities through the Daily Point of Light Award — because we know that inspiration is contagious.
“Points of Light’s research found that Gen Z is the most civically engaged generation to date. Our youth honorees demonstrate that people of all ages can strengthen communities and solve persistent problems,” says Diane Quest, interim CEO, Points of Light.
To inspire you to action this International Youth Day, we are sharing stories of youth honorees, along with three elements from the Points of Light Civic Circle®, a framework for helping people to become more civically engaged.
Nonprofit organizations and NGOs need volunteer power to deliver support to the communities they collaborate with. If you’re an adult wanting to facilitate youth volunteerism, consider organizing a youth-specific event or helping transport the young people in your life to an event. To find a volunteer opportunity that aligns with your interests and availability, check out Points of Light Engage, a database with hundreds of thousands of in-person and virtual volunteer opportunities.
The power of volunteering shines when considering Daily Point of Light Award honoree Nate Buescher, a high schooler who prepares food for a local food pantry and distributes home-cooked meals to tent cities around Chicago. Buescher began fighting food insecurity at age 7 with the Honeycomb Project. Today, he mentors younger volunteers while maintaining his own service projects.
The youth voice is vital, pointing us to which concerns are most important to future world leaders and helping broaden perspectives. Use your voice to advocate for causes you care about by posting on social media, attending a rally or contacting a government leader. Adults can amplify youth voices by sharing with their networks, or organizing forums for youth to be seen and heard.
Seventeen-year-old Daily Point of Light Award honoree Maanit Goel used his voice when organizing a rally of fellow activists on the Washington State Capitol steps to support legislation protecting the Chinook salmon and orca populations. He also regularly addresses state legislators and travels statewide to speak to K-12 students about environmental issues.
Listen and Learn
Social justice and environmental issues are nuanced, involving many people with different perspectives shaped by their own experiences. Listening and learning is one way to honor others’ lived experiences and get a fuller scope of an issue.
Young people can commit to thoroughly researching causes they care about, talking to those working toward solutions and holding space for those impacted. Adults can connect with the young people in their lives, inviting dialogue that allows for sharing different perspectives and finding common ground.
These are the driving ideas behind the work of high schooler Kristie To, who became a leading force in Asian American racial justice when she founded Hearts Against Hate. Among the initiatives of her nonprofit is distributing Asian history and Asian American Pacific Islander civil rights curriculum to children.
“Cultural sensitivity starts with exposure, and that’s what we’re trying to do with these elementary schoolers,” says To.
To learn about other avenues for social engagement for International Youth Day and all year round, check out the Points of Light Civic Circle by visiting pointsoflight.org/civic-circle.
“There are many formal channels for civic engagement, but simple actions make a difference too,” says Quest. “Whether it’s carrying groceries in for a neighbor or donating books to the library, the important thing is to get started when you see a need in your community.”