It’s better to give than to receive,” a time-worn platitude, but it’s true — just ask Sammamish mother Melissa Masterleo. Her teenage daughter Marlena was “completely transformed last summer” by volunteer work she did through an organization called Teens in Public Service (TIPS), a nonprofit organization that takes a unique approach to connecting teens with volunteer opportunities.
Through TIPS, Marlena spent last summer at a paid internship with the Seattle Ronald McDonald House. There, she was an important part of a team that provides support for the house’s guest families, which have seriously ill children being treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital. The experience — which included a daily three-hour bus commute — changed Marlena, she says, by giving her the chance to build valuable skills; everything from coaching adult volunteers to proper food-handling procedures. Marlena was so transformed by her TIPS experience that she decided to take the money her parents had set aside to celebrate her birthday and provide a dinner and activity to share with the families she served all summer at the Ronald McDonald House.
“Without the support of TIPS, it would be very difficult to engage teens as volunteers,” says Judy Adams, the manager of volunteer services at Ronald McDonald House.
Founded in 1997 by local mom Maureen Brotherton, TIPS provides teens with valuable job opportunities — and covers their salaries — while they work for local nonprofits. In addition to the paid internship, during the summer, TIPS interns also receive additional mentoring and service opportunities. Brotherton, who is a 2009 ParentMap Superhero for Washington Families, envisions TIPS alumni becoming the future service leaders of their communities.
Design your own path
Another local nonprofit organization that takes a unique approach to teen volunteering is the Seattle branch of Ashoka’s Youth Venture. Ashoka helps create lifelong “change makers” by funding community service projects that the teens create.
“Being a Venturer is a unique volunteer experience in that there is no set path or role that each person plays,” says Alan Blickenstaff, former Youth Venture program manager. “Rather, young people are presented with a blank slate and asked to design their own ways to engage with the community.”
Teen volunteers are guided through the process of creating an “action plan” — a simplified business plan — and then make a presentation to a community panel, which is made up of business leaders, community stakeholders, teachers and other young people. Each plan is eligible for as much as $1,000 in seed funding and official entry into the Youth Venture network. Everyone has a chance to launch their plan if they demonstrate the commitment and passion to meet the criteria, which require that the plan is: youth-led; features a team of two or more youths; benefits the community; includes an non-controlling adult mentor; has a credible plan for action; is designed to be a sustainable initiative (rather than a one-time event); and is ethically sound. Additionally, there is never a “no” granted from the panel, but rather suggestions, feedback and support to strengthen the idea and have it presented again at a future date.
Shandra Benito is a graduate of Roosevelt High School and a freshman at Seattle University. She got involved with Youth Venture at age 17 when she created a group called Reach Out, a support organization to the local nonprofit organization Abused Deaf Women’s Advocacy Service (ADWAS). Last summer, Reach Out launched its first weeklong summer camp. “The camp was free, and our goal was to provide kids with activities they might not have access to otherwise,” says Benito.
“The most unique and important thing Youth Venture does is to tell youth that they are capable of creating positive change in the community,” says Benito. “They are capable of creating their own programs, having their own ideas and being in charge.
“I don’t think society tells youth that enough. I certainly never thought that I would be capable of putting on a summer camp on my own. But Youth Venture gave me the confidence and support to do that.”
Kathleen F. Miller is a Sammamish-based writer and mother of two. She is an avid volunteer, and her family often engages in community service activities together.