Objective: Train youth for community service and connect them to community needs that fit their interests.
In a Nutshell: ManaTEENs volunteer to help hundreds of local organizations. After going through orientation and service training with the staff, the kids learn about volunteer opportunities through e-mail sent three times a week. They also receive a newsletter once a month that lists ongoing programs, training events and scholarship opportunities.
Where It Happens: The Volunteer Center of Manatee County hosts the club in Bradenton, on Florida’s Gulf coast. Manatee County is 40 miles south of Tampa.
When It Began: ManaTEENs was established as a program of the Volunteer Center in 1994.
Who Started It: Laura Lockwood was 12 years old when she created ManaTEENs. She wanted to find volunteer opportunities for herself and her friends, but had a hard time doing so. Frustrated that very few organizations were willing to effectively utilize youth volunteer service, Lockwood and her friends began to establish their own projects, such as painting houses for senior citizens or cleaning up shorelines and waterways.
Who Runs It: The Volunteer Center’s executive director, Adraine LaRoza, is the only full-time staff person managing ManaTEENs. Her primary staff consists of five AmeriCorps/VISTA members and Lockwood, now 20 and an AmeriCorps Promise Fellow. (Lockwood says ManaTEEN will not be affected by recent AmeriCorps funding cuts.)
Early Obstacles: Senior citizens outnumber youth by a ratio of 12 to 1 in Manatee County, a popular retirement destination. Lockwood says there was a notable distrust of youth by seniors and many local agencies.
How They Overcame Them: ManaTEEN focuses many of its programs and services on seniors. Organizers began by painting elderly homeowners’ houses for free, always displaying a banner in the front yard that read, “Another ManaTEEN Project.”
“Passersby would either be concerned that so many teenagers were on a senior citizen’s property,” LaRoza says, “or they would wonder, ‘How can I get my house painted?’ ”
Cost: ManaTEEN’s budget last year was $175,000.
Who Pays: The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami ($90,000 over three years) and NFL Charities ($51,000 since 2001) have been the biggest contributors. Last year’s largest grant was $37,500 from the Selby Foundation in Sarasota, Fla.
Who Else Has Kicked In: LaRoza’s five staff members have 80 percent of their stipends paid through three AmeriCorps funding streams: the Points of Light Foundation, the state AmeriCorps program and the Florida Alliance for Student Services. Local businesses and civic organizations donate supplies, materials and technical assistance.
Youth Served: According to Lockwood, 12,534 youths between ages 12 and 18 are enrolled in ManaTEENs, which amounts to 60 percent of Manatee County’s enrolled student population from grades six through 12. About 74 percent of ManaTEENs volunteered at least five hours in August, LaRoza says.
Youth Turn-On: All projects are youth-led and administered, and there is never pressure to participate in any one project. “We strongly disagree with mandatory service,” LaRoza says.
Youth Turn-Off: Many of the ongoing initiatives require significant training that some youths find mundane at first. For example, before youths can visit senior citizens in their homes to assess safety needs and install safety equipment, they must complete an aging sensitivity class to better understand the challenges faced by the elderly.
Research Shows: ManaTEEN tracked youth who have left the program since 2000 and gone on to Florida State University, the University of Florida or Manatee Community College. Ninety-two percent reported that they volunteered at least 10 hours per month on the college campus or in the community during their first year after ManaTEEN. More than 1,200 of them earned service scholarships for college tuition.
ManaTEEN was recently named one of the first recipients of the President’s Promise of America Award.
What Still Gets in the Way: Dealing with parents who force their children to volunteer because it’s something the parents think they should do. “We’d rather wait for the youth to come to us when they read about an interesting project, event or program,” LaRoza says.