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A recent New York Times article raises the question: In terms of benefit to society, is it enough to volunteer or does it matter how the projects are structured?
The answers are 'sort of,' and 'yes'.
Researchers recently followed a cohort of students for three years, starting in 11th or 12th grade. Those who had engaged in any volunteer activities, for whatever reason, were more likely than the others to continue to do so later. But the students who had worked on projects that involved broader discussions on the issue at hand - for example, hunger, homelessness, animal abuse, etc. - were more likely to grasp the breadth of the issue and to understand that it would not be sufficiently addressed solely through isolated acts of civic mindedness. That is, they grasped that government has a role in solving deep social problems.
Further, the researchers, led by Joseph E. Kahne, a professor of education at Mills College, found that if people were put into volunteer roles that they didn't understand or, as the article states, felt they were "being assigned made-up work," the experience can turn those people off to community service.
Bottom line: It helps to understand the connection between the volunteerism and what need it is designed to meet.
Keep this in mind next time you volunteer - especially if you're involving a child or young adult in the project.