Working for Change with Young Volunteers
Many of Catholic Charities’ programs provide services in partnership with dedicated volunteers—last year, 2,500 volunteers provided nearly 35,000 volunteer hours across the agency. Our volunteers come from across the Twin Cities metro, and one inspiring group of young volunteers travels all the way from Prior Lake. Known as the Prior Lake Junior Optimist Club, these high school students are the largest group of youth volunteers at Catholic Charities, and their numbers continue to grow.
Building a Culture of Community Involvement
The Prior Lake Junior Optimist Club formed about 20 years ago and was historically composed of about 30 students. Now, advisor Dan Steger says they have over 200 club members—making them contenders for the title of largest Junior Optimist Club in the nation.
The Junior Optimists keep busy with an average of two service projects a week. Dan and his colleague Maria work hard to find volunteer opportunities. “It’s a super big deal for me”, said Dan, “I retired about a year and a half ago, and I spend a lot of time on this—but it’s so rewarding.”
Still, although they receive guidance from Dan and Maria, the Junior Optimists are student-led. One of their student ambassadors, Maren, explained how the club has created a culture at the high school that attracts new students to their cause.
“When younger students get to the school they meet and look up to people who are in the Junior Optimist Club”, she said, “so when people become a part of it, and even after they outgrow it, volunteering is something they want to do.” Peyton, a sophomore at Prior Lake, is a great example: he got involved with the Junior Optimists right away his freshman year thanks to a friend’s recommendation.
The Next Generation
Dan gives credit to the current generation of high schoolers for their energy. “I’m not a sociologist but Gen Z [students] are super idealistic,” he explained, “and you know, they don’t just talk and point a finger—they’re happy to get in there and work.”
The work they do is felt across Catholic Charities’ programs. Recently this has meant serving food at the St. Paul Opportunity Center and decorating edible valentines at the Family Service Center. Even weekend work and long commutes aren’t enough to deter the Junior Optimists.
For Mandy (17), volunteering has allowed her to connect with her community, or as she describes it, “having fun at every event while simultaneously meeting new friends.”
SO HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
1. Sign up for a Volunteer Shift: Catholic Charities has daily volunteer shifts available at a variety of program locations—it’s easy to sign up and requires no long-term commitment!
2. Contact Us About Custom Volunteer Opportunities: We welcome people of all faiths and will work with you to find an opportunity that matches your skills and interests. We offer both on-site and off-site opportunities for individuals and groups.
3. Sign Up for Our Email Newsletter for agency updates and opportunities to get involved!
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