Educating kids about personal finance and career planning is more important than ever given the economic insecurity and disparity created and illuminated by the pandemic. A recent survey of soon-to-be high school graduates revealed COVID-19 has prompted their families to pare back financial support for college, with 79 percent of high school-aged teens indicating they will need to rethink how to finance some or all of their higher education. That same survey revealed this was the case for 60 percent of Black and 59 percent of Hispanic teens, as compared to under half (45 percent) of their White peers.
Doing nothing to reverse these trends is unacceptable. The concern among teens regarding how they will pay for higher education highlights an increased need for financial literacy curriculum that empowers young adults to make financial decisions that will positively impact their futures both short- and long-term. One proven way to do so is through volunteering through organizations created to empower students through financial education such as Junior Achievement. One hour of your time can make a lifetime difference for students who otherwise would not have ready access to this vital knowledge.
According to the NHLBI, “The coronavirus pandemic has seriously impacted both nonprofit organizations and their volunteers.” And, according to VolunteerHub, “Volunteers are needed now, around the world, more than ever to provide relief from the destruction that COVID-19 has had on communities.” According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, before the pandemic, one of the top areas that drew volunteer engagement was education. More than a quarter of volunteers (26 percent) supported activities in the education space. The need for engagement with students remains, particularly in areas of education that respond to financial solvency and uncertainty.
Educational volunteerism, on the whole, has been severely impacted by the effects of the pandemic on our schools – due to the shift to online learning, the adoption of hybrid models where students partially participate in-person in regulated cohorts, and the need to restrict access to classrooms to limit the possibility of exposure to COVID-19. As a result, working with students in a classroom was put on hold for most schools in the country.
Innovation has been essential in helping volunteers within the educational system remain engaged despite the restrictions associated with the pandemic. An unexpected benefit also is showing our children the benefits of volunteerism and service-learning. Kids who want to share their skills and abilities and share their passion for activism are being encouraged to find ways to help out – from organizing blood drives to tutoring to contacting isolated seniors. If kids can volunteer, adults can, too.
Companies like Discover have recognized the need for volunteerism, choosing to invest in the redevelopment of JA Finance Park Virtual, a financial literacy program by Junior Achievement that allows students to explore money management through real-life-like scenarios. Throughout the pandemic, we have been able to remain engaged with students through virtual volunteerism to deliver lessons in financial literacy, work and career readiness, and entrepreneurship. The focus of these lessons is to help students make the connection between what they are learning in school with life outside the classroom, providing hope for the future.
I hope that many of the lessons learned during the past year will continue to be part of the volunteering toolkit when we return to normalcy. And, I look forward to a day when everyone who wants to volunteer will have the opportunity to do that, whether in-person or virtually.