By Taylor Babington
YouthServe is a Birmingham organization that promotes youth volunteerism by connecting teens to opportunities in a variety of ways.
The organization is dedicated to empowering young people to become servant leaders and provides an opportunity for Birmingham teens to be civically engaged in a meaningful way.
YouthServe’s core value system centers around servant leadership and starts with self-awareness–what teens bring to the table when they volunteer and give back to the community. According to Jennifer Hatchett, executive director of YouthServe, many teens don’t realize the power they have to make a difference.
Participants are from all over Birmingham–diversity is a critical component of the program.
“We like to interconnect our students and bring diverse groups of youth together from all over the city. We want them to realize that no one is ‘other’–we’re all living here in Birmingham,” said Hatchett.
Twenty different schools are represented in each volunteer group. For larger projects, as many as 60 schools are represented. Between the kids volunteering throughout the year, at camp and in school, YouthServe reaches about 1,500-2,000 Birmingham kids per year.
“YouthServe is the organization which has facilitated my involvement in the Birmingham community,” said Carter DeWees, camper and Youth Philanthropy Council president. “It has empowered me through service and connected me with youth from around the Birmingham area. Coming from Vestavia Hills, I’m not exposed to tons of diversity, but YouthServe allows me to connect and relate with those who don’t look like me. I am incredibly grateful for YouthServe and its enrichment of myself and each of its youth.”
- Youth Leadership: Students take part in one of two councils that run throughout the year: the youth action council and the philanthropy council. The youth action council plans community service days throughout the year. The youth philanthropy council learns about grants and community assessments. They decide how to spend $20,000 from the Joseph S. Bruno Charitable Foundation. Space is limited to 20 students per council and the applications are open now.
- Service Education: Teachers, guidance counselors and school administrators can all implement service education in their schools. It is typically an introductory program followed by an extended program–the Student Changemaker Council–which includes a service project.
- Urban Service Camp: There are three camps throughout the summer. The first two are an introduction to service and Birmingham. The third is for returning campers, where they do a deep dive into a single issue in Birmingham.
What makes YouthServe different from other volunteer programs?
Vulcan Materials Company has been a longtime contributor to YouthServe. Board member and Vulcan employee, Janet Kavinoky, said, “YouthServe does three things very well: It’s a place to bring people together from different backgrounds and create empathy and knowledge. It provides kids with an outlet to do public service and gets them excited about it. It creates student leaders that learn how to identify a problem, design a solution and recruit others to implement it. Students can really use these experiences to build skills that they can use the rest of their lives.”
To get involved bisit YouthServe’s website for more information and to fill out an application. Local nonprofits can also reach out to YouthServe with any volunteer needs they may have.