In September 2021, the NC Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service (Volunteer NC) engaged Partners for Impact to “better understand the youth service landscape in North Carolina and to identify potential pathways for developing and expanding the quality and quantity of youth service in the state.” The project focuses on middle and high school-aged youth, especially in rural areas. The overarching theme emerged as, How do we engage youth better? Partners for Impact has spent several months gathering data to answer three core questions from a variety of sources: 

  • What youth service models are working?
  • What are the barriers to youth participation in volunteer service? 
  • What can Volunteer NC do to support what’s working?

We learned to explore “What does it mean to “center youth” in volunteer programming?” It means listening to youth, identifying what issues they are passionate about, supporting them as they develop the actions they want to take, and building their capacity to create change in their communities. While youth often know what they care about, they do not always have the knowledge and skills to act on those passions. Successful youth engagement programs, we discovered, focus on giving youth the tools and platform to express themselves and then getting out of their way.