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Volunteer rates are rising for the younger generation

Millennials bring energy and enthusiasm to volunteer work

October 3, 2013 | 12:00 a.m. CST

The millennial generation is a selfish one, people say. They’re lazy and entitled. Yes, it’s true that millennials don’t volunteer as much as other generations, according to national numbers, but local observations suggest a change among this age group in previous years.

“I’ve always had great response to volunteering from the colleges in Columbia, and it just seems to be getting better,” says Karen Grindler, the director and founder of Cedar Creek Therapeutic Riding Center. “It’s growing substantially.” Each age group brings something different to the table, she says, and millennials provide an abundance of energy and enthusiasm; whereas, older adults bring knowledge and experience with children.

Millennials, those born in the ’80s and ’90s, have diverse reasons for volunteering. Some do it for personal reasons, to better the community or simply to beef up their résumés. Robert Rosenthal, vice president of communications and marketing at, says millennials are attracted to showcasing what they have done or what unique skills they can bring to the project. “The millennial generation tends to view volunteering as something that will have a measurable impact and that their work, their involvement and what they contribute will have a measurable impact with very clear takeaways,” he says.

Volunteering numbers continue to increase nationwide, but according to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Missouri millennials are ahead of the national curve in volunteerism, with 25 percent of them spending some of their time volunteering. Add to that the almost 35 percent of college students who volunteer, and the Show-Me State ranks 11th in the nation of volunteers in college.

Illustration by CARRA HANSEN

“I believe in what volunteering stands for,” says Jen Apoian, the 24-year-old literary director at Columbia’s Groovy Grrls. The nonprofit organization is a community gathering place for girls and women to learn new skills and to explore their interests.

Emily Downing, a millennial who started Groovy Grrls in August, says she has been amazed by the work and enthusiasm of the millennials for her project. “They’re just so ready, like: ‘Let’s do it now! Why wait?’ which does seem sometimes naive or foolish, but it’s really refreshing to me,” she says, “There’s an electric energy and passion that I see this group of people have.”

Since opening Groovy Grrls, Downing has received an outpouring of volunteers offering their services. She says this newfound enthusiasm for volunteering can be partly attributed to the lagging job market and the need for young adults to get creative with and explore their skill sets. “It seems people just create their own opportunities right now, and if it’s doing the thing that they love, they’re working with even more diligence and passion toward it,” she says.

Volunteer numbers are looking up, but it still might not be enough. The rate of new nonprofits is coming in faster than the rate of funds. “So the need is really screaming at millennials, and the question is, ‘How are they going to respond?’” Rosenthal says. In the future, there will be more nonprofits than ever, especially organizations focusing on social service. He says millennials will continue to increase their role in volunteering.

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