‘Students In Action’ Changes Lives of Youth Volunteers•
The phrase, “it is better to give than to receive,” has proven true over the years. But it especially resonates with this year’s at-risk youth who are participating in the Jefferson Awards’ Students in Action program.
The program is touted as one that offers intensive training for student leaders by empowering them to think big in an effort to create maximum impact. New Jersey’s 3,054 middle and high school participants couldn’t agree more. While working to make a difference in their communities, the students ended up changing their own lives for the better.
“One of our schools has a program for school-phobic kids, but when they come to conferences, you wouldn’t even know the difference,” explained Heather Tedesco, New Jersey’s Jefferson Awards Regional Director. “They wouldn’t even speak in a classroom, and now they’re speaking in front of 200 people. It’s all about getting to something that these kids care about because it makes a huge difference.”
Since its inception in 2007, Students in Action has generated some impressive results. It has been responsible for training nearly 16,000 student leaders, more than 3,000 of which have come from New Jersey and have logged more than 17 million hours of service, according to the Jefferson Awards Foundation.
The real eye-opening statistics come when looking at the personal impact the program has had on its participants. According to the Jefferson Awards Foundation, 37 percent of the students live in low-income areas and of those, 65 percent are at risk of not completing high school. Yet, after being involved in Students in Action, 99 percent graduated, and 71 percent attended four-year colleges. Tedesco says that’s what makes the Students in Action program unique because it creates a win-win-win situation for communities, schools, and at-risk students.
The success of the program is partly due to the responsibility that it places on each student. Not only do they get hands-on training in marketing, fundraising, leadership, and organization, they also are required to practically apply those skills to causes that they select. Organizers say Students in Action works because unlike high school, students aren’t forced to do anything. Instead, everything is student-motivated and student-run.
In addition, studies show that involving at-risk students in service offers added benefits on a macroeconomic scale. According to a report from Opportunity Nation, services to aid 5.6 million disconnected American youth cost the country $93 billion annually. Yet, the Jefferson Awards Foundation has noted that a $50,000 investment in Students in Action will train more than 150 students, who will in turn offer a $2.8 million benefit to their communities. That’s a whopping 56-fold return on investment.
Despite the plethora of youth initiatives that exist for disadvantaged youth, studies suggest that those which are most effective teach students to solve problems. Students in Action truly exemplifies this spirit.