Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You've Got to Be Cool to be Kind

We all want to be cool. In kindergarten, it means having the right lunch box. In high school it means having the right friends, playing the right sports. But now cool is being redefined for young people in a way that can help change the world.

Pop culture volunteerism is on the rise and by making service cool, celebrities and non-profits are able to spark a new interest in community service and civic engagement. A new take on volunteering helps reach new audiences and attract participants from all across society by exposing the “cool” in volunteer service.

Rock the Vote has harnessed this idea to attract a group of voters who historically has been sorely apathetic. Young people have traditionally been one of the most apathetic demographics – something Rock the Vote has changed by appealing to the interests and environment of young people. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, young people 18-24 reached an all time low for voter participation in 1996 and 2000, hovering around 32% but this statistic has since been on the rise. By partnering with artists such as Madonna and the Black-eyed Peas, organization such as Wear Your Music and Join the Dot, and businesses such as Hot Topic and Telemundo, Rock the Vote has helped make voting cool again. In the 2008 election, 49% of young people voted, the only demographic to show major voter participation increases.

Celebrities are also getting involved in pop culture volunteering. By using their highly visible position and popularity, they are encouraging their fans to go out into their communities and give back to those in need. Usher’s New Look Foundation provides leadership training and mentoring to disadvantaged young people, who are then able to take these skills and apply them to becoming global and corporate readers.

Miley Cyrus’s Get Ur Good On is an online community where Miley shares her own volunteer experiences and provides forums, ideas and support for her fans who post about their own service work. Disney has inspired over one million volunteers with their Give a Day, Get a Day program. Volunteers received a day of free park entry when they give a day of service.

Yesterday, VH1 premiered it’s “Do Something” Awards in conjunction with the organization of the same name. By giving awards to the artists, athletes and actors who have contributed most to volunteer service and civic engagement, VH1 and Do Something are giving due attention and recognition to people and organizations that have brought service into the limelight. The awards also profiled cities with excellent programs, charities on Facebook and Twitter, as well as documentaries.

For organizations and events like these, volunteering is more about the intrinsic act of service. It is about encouraging others to join in and it’s about putting volunteer service on the same level as other popular and celebrated talents. By turning focus to giving back, celebrities are not only demonstrating that service is “cool,” they are also reminding us that we have a responsibility to use our resources, whether they be money, fame or time, to help others. Because cool isn’t your apparel or possessions, as we so often thought when we were in school. It is recognizing our responsibilities as members of our communities and as global citizens by contributing our time, skills and resources to our society.

Photo Credit: Corporation for National and Community Service

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