We’ve all heard about the value of young people having a positive role model. Research shows that adolescents who can identify a positive role model in their lives have higher grades and self-esteem, make healthier lifestyle choices about nutrition and exercise, are more protected from negative thoughts and behavior and have decreased potential for engaging in risky behaviors.
Positive role models help young people’s motivation by demonstrating a guide to achieving success. Think about people you admire or have looked up to professionally or personally. They likely have 1. an ability to inspire others, 2. a clear set of values, 3. a commitment to community, 4. an acceptance of others and 5. an ability to overcome obstacles. They illustrate for others a way of achieving successful goals and a sense of self-worth.
While it may sound like a cliché, you can be a positive influence in the life of a young person. A positive adult role model doesn’t have to offer life-changing advice or go above and beyond to solve all a child’s problems. They simply need to be there, show they care, listen without judging and occasionally give advice when asked or needed.
Without even trying, these adults help teach children vital social skills about how to handle conflict or how to interact with certain people, offer them career paths or college options that a child might not have even thought of otherwise, and help create a safety net for children by showing them that there are many people who care about them. It is especially important for students to have positive adult role models who share their race or background.
Unfortunately, not all youth are lucky enough to have a positive role model, and not all role models are positive. According to the Office for Civil Rights, 1.6 million students attend a school with a sworn law enforcement officer, but not a school counselor. In fact, the national student-to-counselor ratio is 491 to 1, while the American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250 to 1. The responsibility of helping to shape Lancaster County’s children and teens into resilient, healthy adults lies with all of us – parents, grandparents, extended family, teachers, clergy, coaches and bosses. Here are just a few ways for you to join this important work:
• Boys & Girls Club: Through programming that emphasizes education, character, leadership, athletics, arts, health and life skills, the Boys & Girls Club of Lancaster intentionally intervenes in the lives of its club members. There are five clubhouses for after-school (3:30 to 8 p.m.) activities, four in Lancaster and one in Columbia. Spend some time as a youth program volunteer and assist with clubhouse activities such as helping with homework, playing board games or coaching a sports team. Or gather a group and host an activity day or tournament at Roberto Clemente Field; plan a “clubhouse takeover” (spend the day with the kids); or sponsor and participate in a guest presentation (yoga, Zumba, etc.). Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer.
• Junior Achievement: JA’s purpose is to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. JA classroom programs empower students to make a connection between what they learn in school and real-world application, enhancing the relevance of their classroom learning and increasing their understanding of the value of staying in school. JA volunteers deliver relevant, hands-on experiences that give students from kindergarten through high school knowledge and skills in financial literacy, careers and entrepreneurship. Contact: email@example.com
• The Mix at Arbor Place: The Mix offers an after-school program, summer camps, and other initiatives all aimed at helping kids thrive through education, relationships and self-awareness. Volunteer opportunities include homework and tutoring assistance, mentors, programming, music, creative writing, arts and physical education. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Scaling Walls a Note at a Time: This nonprofit organization is dedicated to being an advocate for children affected by parental incarceration by providing life-changing interventions through music and mentoring. Volunteer opportunities include music instruction, videography/photography, distribution of event materials, social media, event set-up and help and/or fundraising. Contact: Swan4kids.org
All youth volunteers are required to obtain the following documents (other training/documentation may also be required by an agency):
• Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance (one free check for volunteers every 5 years).
• State police Pennsylvania Access to Criminal History (PATCH) record (free for volunteers).
• Federal Criminal History Background Check (costs $23 and must be processed through the Department of Human Services).
Cindi Moses is executive vice president of United Way of Lancaster County.