Laura, a graduate of Ann Arbor’s Huron High School, says volunteering isn’t always glamorous, but that she values the connections she makes with people both locally and globally. She has volunteered giving tours to new students at her high school, as a group leader at her church, and has done mission work from Detroit to Costa Rica. She explains that growing up with privilege has left her in debt to the world, and that in volunteering she feels like she is doing her part.
Laura is the 2017 recipient of the United Way Varsity Letter and Scholarship. The varsity letter is available to all high school students that apply by May 15, 2018. The scholarship is awarded annually to one 12th grade senior high school student.
Time volunteering not only benefits our community, it also benefits the volunteer, and this is especially true for teens. Research shows that “civically-engaged teenagers make greater scholastic progress during high school and subsequently acquire higher levels of education than their otherwise similar peers.”
Many Washtenaw County High Schools are encouraging volunteerism prior to graduation. Students who fulfill these needs in their local or global communities get a lot more than just school credit. Some feel it will give them valuable work and experiential learning opportunities. Parents value the empathy and social awareness that comes with volunteering. Consistent volunteerism can also make a college application stand out to university admissions directors. The United Way of Washtenaw County recognizes the importance of volunteering and has designed a program to reward the commitment of those students who volunteer. The United Way of Washtenaw County is unique in offering a High School Varsity Letter in Community Service recognizing high school students for their outstanding volunteer work during the year.
Students participating in the program complete 145 hours of verifiable volunteer work in both school related and non-related activities and submit an application by May 15. The students who have earned the honor then get a Varsity Letter from their respective public or private high schools. United Way of Washtenaw County awarded 24 Community Service Varsity Letters in 2017 and awards one $1,000 college scholarship for each year to one participant.
Students found volunteer opportunities through school clubs, tutoring, service projects, mission trips, working at food banks, and partnering with non-profit organizations that benefit our community.
Sheila Pedersen, AFL-CIO Community Services Liaison at United Way of Washtenaw County, says the goal is to “recognize civic-minded youth to cultivate them into the next generation of volunteers, social workers, and community leaders.” Pedersen initiated the program in Washtenaw County, and has also helped to establish similar opportunities in Iowa and New York. “When I first came to United Way I noticed we needed a program to engage High School students and after an AFL-CIO meeting, I learned about the Varsity Letter program and brought it back to Washtenaw County,” Pedersen explains. “So far we average 20 students a year, and we know there are hundreds of students in Washtenaw County giving back hundreds of hours and we want to get the word out, so we can say ‘thank you’ you are doing a great job!” Pedersen notes that in partnering on this project, the AFL-CIO Labor Organization donates time, money and energy to run this program and chose the scholarship recipient.
To learn more about the United Way Washtenaw County Varsity Letter in Community Service program for your school or a student you can visit their webpage.
United Way of Washtenaw County values your support of this program. To make a one-time contribution to encourage teen volunteering please do so here.