Column: Today’s youth understand the true value of charity
Published: Friday, December 3, 2010 8:13 AM US/eastern
BY NATHAN DAY WILSON
When it comes to giving money to charity, Americans are without equal. Every year, and especially during the holiday season, many of us donate money out of religious commitment or to take advantage of the U.S. tax code.
To some degree, this entire process depends on the availability of extra money. Even before the current economic crisis, many were scrutinizing the decreasing purchasing power of their paychecks and wondering if they could once again financially support the causes they believed in.
Yet there remains a potential reservoir of resources that could very well lead us into a renewed time of productivity and purpose: time.
Last year, almost 55 million people volunteered. People cleaned riversides, chopped vegetables for food programs, painted shelter walls and helped to rebuild troubled neighborhoods.
This is great stuff! This is commendable. It is important.
However, it beckons a question: If we continue to use volunteerism in the same way that we use material goods, will time become the next resource we deplete?
Two years ago, though it seems like a lifetime, presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama said that they would expand AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps. Both said they would increase the ways students can earn education stipends for using their time to help others.
The Obama Administration has expanded AmeriCorps, but has not successfully broadened the use and availability of education stipends beyond some rather minor adjustments.
Of course college is no longer a place where people start volunteering; by the time they begin their freshman year, four out of five students have worked as volunteers. By the time they graduate, many college students have spent at least seven years donating their time to good causes.
As one local example, the congregation I serve supports an annual summer trip for high school students who want to serve others. I am very proud of the hard work and commitment of the students and a host of adult chaperones.
Seeing charity from the inside has prompted many students to question whether traditional charities make the best use of the one commodity they can afford to donate: their time. More to the point, students openly state their dissatisfaction in working for causes that are not making a difference in solving vital problems. In short, they don’t have time for charity; they want change.
That is why students are now beginning to merge their academic courses with lessons learned in the process of performing community service and are spending time devising public policy ideas that will make a difference. Perhaps most exciting, they are also running for elected office to put those policies into action.
For example, at all of 22, Kesha Ram, freshly graduated from the University of Vermont, was elected to the Vermont House of Representatives. She ran a very dedicated race. Seeking elected office was not Ram’s first exposure to public life. In high school, she helped to pass legislation banning carcinogenic chemicals from dry cleaning, started a recycling program for her school and led a delegation of students to India for the World Social Forum, where she made a documentary about globalization.
Unlike previous generations who divided their time between work, social activities and spiritual commitments, today’s young adults seek to merge all three.
We’ve raised this generation to think this way, and now maybe it’s time for us to learn a lesson from them.