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This page is devoted to the management of volunteer programs in health care settings.

~May 2009~

Teen Volunteers???

When you consider that today's youth will be tomorrow's leaders, I often wonder why so many Directors of Volunteer Services (DVS) are not willing to place teen volunteers. People often associate teen volunteering in healthcare as the "candy stripers" of yesterday. Much has changed in the healthcare world with rules, regulations and regulatory compliance restrictions. Adult volunteers face the same restrictions as well. It's not surprising then that parents call inquiring whether our facility offers candy stripe opportunities. In the face of all the regulatory compliance, the question remains: what is there that teen volunteers can do?  How can opportunities be meaningful?

As someone who has been in this business for over twenty years, I've seen value changes in teens through the years. There was a time when it was just something teens did because their parents were looking for something constructive for them to do. Now, I see teens who are focused on career exploration, building their resume and amassing community service for scholarship applications.  It's been my personal belief that volunteering provides the vehicle by which today's youth can hone their social skills, something that's not necessarily taught in schools these days.  I've seen quiet, shy teens really come out of their shell and blossom as they continue in their volunteer experience.

So why would you purposely exclude teens (tomorrow's adult volunteers) from your program? Do we not owe it to them to help build and shape them as tomorrow's leaders?  Research tells us that if teen volunteers have a good experience as a youth, they will be more likely to return to volunteering as adults.  So why would we want to leave the wrong impression with teens?  My program has 225 volunteers, 28% of them are teens, a fact of which I am very proud.  The secret to the success of the welcoming teens into the program?  For me, the answer is no differentiation between the adult and teen program.  I have a very clear minimum requirement of time commitment that must be met for all.  I have students that come just for the summer and I have students that volunteer throughout the school year as well.  They all blend very nicely.

I have found that if you treat teens like adults, they will often rise to the challenge and act like adults.  They are offered the same opportunities as adults (and often work side by side with adults).  The students complete the same process as adults with orientation and training that specifically hits the "hot buttons" for today's teens.  Some of those things include: 

  • discussion of use of cell phones, ipods, etc while on duty (they are not allowed);
  • appropriate expectations for attire (no skin showing, no blue jeans or flip-flops);
  • clear expectations of appropriate behavior (greeting people and willingly offering assistance); 
  • showing up on time and being responsible for their commitment;
  • communicating with me if there are difficulties with schedules. 

If you're clear with the expectations, you'll be wonderfully rewarded.  I continue to be amazed by today's youth and know in my heart that the world I will leave behind when I retire and leave the working world will be all right because of today's teens; which is a very refreshing thought, don't you think?


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The author of the Heath Care Volunteer Programs column is Mary Kay Hood , MS Hendricks Regional Health, Danville, IN (317) 745-3556. With a BS degree in biology from Marian College and a Master of Science in Management from Indiana Wesleyan University, Mary Kay has been involved in volunteer management over twenty years with a zoo and in the health care field. During that time, she completed the Management of Volunteer Programs course offered at University of Indianapolis, several supervisory training programs as well as the Indiana Hospital and Health Association’s Management Institute offered by the Executive Education Program, School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. Mary Kay served on the Nonprofit Training Center of United Way from 1993 to 2006. During that time, she taught many workshops also facilitating speaker arrangements for the Basic Volunteer Management series. Additionally, she has presented at various national and international conferences. Mary Kay served as president of the Central Indiana Association for Volunteer Administration (CIAVA) from 1993-1997 and the Indiana Society of Directors of Volunteer Services (ISDVS) from 2006-2008. She was also the recipient of the 1995 Outstanding Director of Volunteer Services Award and the 2002 United Way of Central Indiana Volunteer of the Year Award. Most recently she served on the Steering Committee for COVAA resulting in the formation of a new national membership organization for those in volunteer management, the Association of Leaders in Volunteer Engagement (AL!VE). With several published articles, she is also author to two books: The One Minute Answer to Volunteer Management Questions and The Volunteer Leader as Change Agent.

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