The research looked into the SVA Service Award, a national framework for advancing secondary school student volunteering, to provide an in-depth insight into the benefits of youth volunteering, service and mahi aroha across a range of outcome areas.
The positive impact of the Student Volunteer Army’s SVA Service Award on young people’s lives is undeniable and profound. Volunteering helps students develop a variety of valuable practical skills, it enhances confidence and self-efficacy, increases work readiness and informs future career choices. It strengthens a sense of belonging at school and deepens connection with the local community. These outcomes have particular significance for students who are shy, feel isolated and who do not excel in school or sports. Volunteering also leads to a greater understanding of community needs, gaining social capital and expanding social networks. The positive association between volunteering and students’ attitude-to-self is particularly poignant. Volunteering makes students feel good, proud and more connected to others, which are all positive emotional experiences that are linked to mental health and wellbeing. This is highly relevant for adolescents, who often struggle with a lack of confidence and self-worth, but also in the New Zealand context, where mental health in our rangatahi (young people) continues to worsen.
The SVA Service Award creates visibility around youth volunteering by formally recognising service, normalising volunteering, and supporting students to become lifelong volunteers. In turn, this helps fill the volunteer sector pipeline with young people willing to contribute to causes and organisations that rely on volunteers. Not only that, but the SVA Service Award makes it accessible and fun for young people to engage in volunteering. And by doing so, the programme creates avenues through which the positive outcomes of volunteering can be experienced. At the same time, the research shows that these outcomes may not be experienced by those who need them most, as they face higher barriers to participation. The SVA can widen its impact by ensuring the programme is inclusive and accessible to all, by offering additional support for less advantaged schools and students.