Story and photos by Jill Draper
It was first proposed in a senior thesis for a college class in the mid-1980s. Two years later it became an official service program for youth ages 11-18 that founder David Battey operated from his parents’ home in Prairie Village. Now, the Youth Volunteer Corps is a nonprofit headquartered in Kansas City with 35 offices throughout the United States and Canada.
In July, students in the local program volunteered to mark storm drains in south KC, pick up trash at Gomer’s Corner shopping center, learn about rain gardens and analyze the water in Indian Creek that flows past the Trailside Center on Holmes Road.
“We’re doing nine different tests on water in the creek,” Kate Delehunt informed the group, explaining they would check temperature, turbidity, pH and conductivity, plus look for snails, larvae, nymphs, midges, leeches and aquatic worms. No one seemed upset when she added, “On some of these tests you have to get in the water.”
Delehunt, a curriculum coordinator with KC Water Services, was conducting a week-long science session called “Runoff to Rivers” for the Youth Volunteer Corps. The corps partners with a variety of additional groups such as the Veterans Community Project, Habitat for Humanity, animal shelters, domestic violence shelters, KC Farm School and KC Community Gardens. In June a group of teens volunteered in Grandview at Flourish Furnishings Ministry to help collect, sort and distribute furniture and household essentials.
The summer program is set up like a day camp. Students pay $59 per four-day session and receive a T-shirt and daily lunch. Some students enroll in all sessions, while others select certain topics. During the school year they can help with weekend projects at no charge.
The Youth Volunteer Corps has partnered with the United Way since the beginning, when its first office was housed in the United Way building. Today it’s also sponsored locally by the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, Camp Fire, KCMO Parks & Recreation and school districts. Funding is provided by many sources—foundations, corporations, individuals and government grants.
Last year (September 2019 to August 2020) the corps worked with 324 local youth who served over 3,000 hours on hundreds of projects.
Battey, who still heads the corps as president, set up the organization so that kids can choose which agencies they want to work with in order to make sure their experiences are real and meaningful.
After college, when he was shopping the idea around to high school principals, nonprofit directors, foundations and wealthy donors, he received a lot of feedback. Some of it was good, but others told him the concept wouldn’t work.
“I appreciated the advice, but I had to tell them, ‘Well, I’m going to try it anyway,’” Battey said in an article published by Williams College. After organizing the first summer sessions in 1987, he received positive comments from the student volunteers. He remembers thinking, “This is incredible. It’s really going to work.”
Some 35 years later, the students studying Indian Creek determined that the water was fairly clean, although it ranked on the high side for chemicals like phosphates and nitrates. That situation probably is caused by goose poop and fertilizer runoff, the instructor explained. The students were intrigued. “You should come out to my school next year,” one suggested.
A positive comment—just like in the beginning days. For more, see yvckc.org.