by Jelysa Hernandez, MSW Clinician and PALS Advisor

On Wednesday, January 25th, 16 CHS Pathways’ PALS community service group students took a trip to volunteer at the NJ Ozanum Family Shelter.

Although the students find personal fulfillment through each volunteer event, this process was unique. PALS students prepped months beforehand to raise money for the family shelter through a bake sale, in which all goods were contributed solely by the students. Students then used the money raised to buy enough sandwich materials to make 100 sandwich bags, each included a sandwich, drink, snack, and condiments. Students participated in “Sandwich Night” after school on January 24th, a day prior to the trip to make the sandwiches and organize the bags.Students in hall

Once students arrived to the family shelter on the following day, they engaged with both children and adults alike in a compassionate way. Everyone extended their gratitude to the students and were amazed that the students had such giving hearts. Not only did the students deliver sandwich goods, but they also played games and interacted with all participants residing in the shelter.

According Social Work Helper, in a study published in the current issue of the journal Child Development, scientists at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that teens who were engaged in civic activities were more likely than non-engaged peers to attain higher income and education levels as adults.

“We know from past research that taking part in civic activities can help people feel more connected to others and help build stronger communities, but we wanted to know if civic engagement in adolescence could enhance people’s health, education level and income as they become adults,” said Parissa J. Ballard, Ph.D., assistant professor of family and community medicine at Wake Forest Baptist and principal investigator of the study. The research team used propensity score matching, a statistically rigorous methodology to examine how civic engagement related to later outcomes regardless of participants’ background characteristics, including levels of health and parental education.

For example, adolescents who volunteered were matched to adolescents from similar backgrounds who did not volunteer to compare their health, education and income as adults. “Relative to other common approaches used in this kind of research, this method lets us have greater confidence that civic engagement really is affecting later life health and education,” Ballard said. The research team found that volunteering and voting also were favorably associated with subsequent mental health and health behaviors, such as a fewer symptoms of depression and lower risk for negative health behaviors including substance use (Social Work Helper).

The connection between volunteering and numerous positive effects is profound. The students involved were grateful and humbled by this experience, as they were able to see human struggle in a different light. The Pathways students were able to reflect on how this experience gave them greater perspective on their own lives and strengthened their desire to continue to be involved in community service. Upon leaving the shelter, all individuals were sad to see the volunteers leave, and expressed their appreciation. However, it was clear to me on the bus ride home that the volunteers benefited as much from this experience as the shelter residents.

To learn more about Promoting Youth Civic Engagement, please click here.