Service in Support of Service: Youth Volunteerism in Des Moines

The focus of my Future Leaders in Action (FLIA) summer fellowship was to revitalize youth volunteerism within Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Iowa (BGCCI). In other words, and stick with me here, I was brought on to help more young people help more other people in more ways. BGCCI serves some of Iowa’s most marginalized neighborhoods, so many of our Club members have personal experience with some of their communities’ most pressing issues.

What makes our members so inspiring is how motivated they are to give back to their community at such a young age.

Because of how aware and motivated our Club members are, we sought out to revitalize our leadership and service programs by giving them a voice at every turn. We believe more students will commit more to leadership and service if our programs align with their experiences and values. As my main project I designed an anonymous, web-based survey for the roughly 300 4th-12th grade Club members we see on an average day. We asked questions like:

  • What do you think is a big strength in your community right now? What could your Club do to help keep that going?
  • What do you think is a big challenge in your community right now? What could your Club do to help with that challenge?
  • Have you or your family ever been helped by a community group? If so, tell us the story of how they helped.

With the right mix of messaging and pizza, we convinced 257 Club members to share their experiences and interests through our survey.

We are all experts of our own experience, and our young leaders shared their expertise in spades.

The next step in the revitalization process was to analyze our survey data and produce reports that outlined 1) what issues members care about most and 2) what volunteering and other projects they could do to address those issues. To drive home exceptional members’ leadership role in this process, we presented these reports to our leadership and service club leaders (“officers”) before sharing them with staff members. I think this gesture was well-received and motivated members to take even more ownership of their inspiring work.

The final step of our process was to put things into place so our young leaders’ ideas can become actions throughout the upcoming school year. I led staff members in planning a “summit” of all the roughly twenty officers throughout Des Moines. At this summit, members will share a past project they completed, describe a one-site project they are planning for the school year, and begin the process of planning a multi-site project. The latter will be a wonderful moment in which as many as 75 young people will work together to make an impact in their community.

What excites me most is that the exact type of impact members make will be decided by members themselves. I am proud to have helped young leaders plan to address animal welfare (47% of Club members chose this as their most preferred cause), poverty and hunger (17% chose this), helping people with disabilities (12% chose this), and other issues in their communities.

I am inspired by their earnest desire to give back despite personal and family struggles many of them are navigating. Because of this, I believe, more strongly than ever, that people will serve their communities when they are empowered to do so.



The FLIA/BGCCI partnership empowers its members in this way. What great things members will do with this support remains to be seen, but I am proud to have helped lay a foundation BGCCI members and staff can build upon.