Volunteering and Young Jewish Adults

by Jessica Baverman

There have been constant messages in the media saying that the millennial generation (those of us born between 1980 and the early to late 1990s) care little about our community and are more likely to spend time in front of a computer than interacting with our peers. In fact, these are both wrong statements. Among Jewish young adults, volunteerism and social interactions are strongly linked.

In St. Louis, Jewish Federation has created a collaborative volunteer project designed specifically for young adults. The ‘Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative’ is a collaboration of three Jewish organizations: Next Dor STL, the Jewish young adult community center; the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and Jewish Community Center (JCC). The project will offer an easy-to-join ongoing volunteer opportunity at Gateway 180, a St. Louis homeless shelter. St. Louis philanthropist William (Bill) Solomon worked with the Jewish Community Foundation of St. Louis to create an endowment that funds the project in honor of his late wife Karen, a dedicated community volunteer.

The project is especially compelling after Repair the World published the results of the study conducted by the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis University and Gerstein-Agne Strategic Communications. The June 2011 report, titled Volunteering +Values: A Repair the World Report of Jewish Young Adults, was commissioned by Repair the World to learn more about volunteer service among Jewish young adults in the United States.

The study found that a majority of the nearly 1,000 respondents had reported volunteer involvement in the 12 months prior to the study. Nearly 40% of these respondents volunteered on an irregular basis of less than once a month. 52% of respondents reported that in a typical week, they do not spend time volunteering. Even so, 29% of the respondents volunteer at least once a month, and 10% volunteer at least once a week.

While most Jewish young adults may not physically be out in their communities volunteering on a regular basis, a majority are involved in “low-threshold activism,” which includes signing petitions, donating money, and buying goods that align with their political and social values. Being involved in our communities at times that are agreeable with our increasingly busy schedules is important, and it is more likely for Jewish young adults to be involved when the level of energy to be engaged is minimal and the activities can be easily incorporated into their regular schedule.

Because Jewish young adults are busy with jobs, social events, professional development, and families, the study reported that we prefer small local change in which we are able to see the results of our work through consistent low-threshold volunteering opportunities, such as the Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative. Recurring events requiring just a small time commitment make it easy for young adults to fit volunteering into their busy schedules by offering a wide variety of activities at varying times. A few hours of service one day each month at an easily accessible site is most appealing to Jewish young adults.

Importantly, projects that give Jewish young adults time to socialize with their peers while pursuing social justice are the most likely to recruit Jewish young adults. The research shows that those Jewish young adults who are not self-motivated to volunteer individually are most likely to get involved when their friends or families encourage them.

The Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative will address the specific and unique interests of Jewish young adults while instilling a sense of community around volunteer activities. The project is slated to kick off in early 2012, with recruitment spearheaded by Next Dor STL.

To get involved, contact Next Dor STL at info@nextdorstl.com. For more information about the Karen Solomon Young Adult Service Initiative, click here.

Jessica Baverman, originally from Atlanta, served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in St. Louis after earning a Master of Social Work with a concentration in nonprofit management from UGA in 2011. She is Vice President of the Board of Next Dor STL, an organization funded in part by Jewish Federation of St. Louis.