Over the past two decades many youth development organizations, scholarships, and school districts have encouraged community participation as a requirement to graduate, receive funds, or be recognized as a member. These organizational policies are based on assumptions that community participation can contribute to youth development and provide a basis for lifelong civic engagement (Einfeld, 2008). Current scholarship on youth community participation suggests that it can positively influence participants, host organizations, and communities. For example, community engagement among youth has been associated with positive attitudes toward school, voting, activism, sense of community, and predicting future community involvement. In addition to participants, host organizations and communities are also positively influenced by community service (Jones & Abes, 2004; Einfeld & Collin, 2008). Despite these benefits, how and why young people become involved in community work has been relatively unexplored. We attempt address this gap with a qualitative study of emerging adults regarding their motivations and experiences engaging in community service.
We interviewed 39 young adults recruited from a university student subject pool. We chose this source of participants in order to interview students with different levels of involvement. The interviews followed a semi-structured protocol that focused on their experiences with community service, their motivations to engage in the community, and the impact and benefits of the service on themselves and the organizations they worked with. Using Cnaan’s framework for motivations to volunteer (Cnaan, 1991) we engaged in a deductive analysis to identify participants’ motivations for community engagement. Our analysis found that external motivations, such as requirements to participate, and social rewards, were most commonly mentioned. A third important theme came from respondents who had a personal connection or experience with an issue, such as a family member with a disability, that motivated engagement.
We will conclude by presenting implications for social work practice and future policies mandating engagement and ways in which organizations can be more successful in reaching and recruiting and recruitment of young people in community efforts. Understanding students’ motivations for involvement in communities can provide information for policies, programs, and institutions that support youth service.
Cnaan, R. A., & Goldberg-Glen, R. S. (1991). Measuring Motivation to Volunteer in Human Services. The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 27(3), 269–284.
Einfeld, A, Collins, D. (2008). The relationships between service-learning, social justice, multicultural competence, and civic engagement. Journal of College Student Development 49(2): 95-109.
Jones, S., & Abes, E. (2004). Enduring influences of service-learning on college students' identity development. Journal of College Student Development. 45(2): 149-166