Kenosha News Correspondent
They’ve been called the “Me Generation,” but a closer look at Millennials may prove that title inaccurate. In fact, Millennials, loosely defined as those born between 1980 and 2000, the so-called “Me Generation” say “it’s not all about me.”
“I think the media makes us out to be this kind of self-obsessed generation,” said Alyssa Joseph, a junior at Carthage College. “But I think, for a lot of us, when we hit college we start to really take in the world around us and realize we want to be a part of it in a way that makes a difference. Yes, we are young, but we also have energy and enthusiasm to spend on helping people in our communities.”
The 21-year-old challenges people to ignore the naysayers and instead “look to what’s actually happening in the community and on college campuses. You’ll see we have engaged, passionate students who are concerned about the welfare of the community.”
For Joseph, who is pursuing a degree in accounting, that means volunteering her time and skills helping low- to moderate-income families prepare their tax returns through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. Last year, she helped a young father get a sizable, and much-needed, refund.
“He was just a few years older than me, but he had a daughter who looked to be just two or three,” she said. “It had been a tough year for him, you could tell. But when he realized he was getting a pretty good refund, he was so happy to have this extra money to help support his daughter.”
Carthage Circle K Club is another way some students are redefining their generation’s public perception. Founded on the motto, “Live to Serve, Love to Serve,” Circle K International is an international organization that focuses on service projects and engages college students in various service opportunities throughout Kenosha.
“I’m really proud to be a part of it,” said Carthage junior Benjamin Simington. This year, Simington is serving as the club’s president, but he believes the key to creating a generation that cares is encouraging volunteerism at a young age. Prior to arriving on campus, Simington knew volunteering needed to be a part of his college career, just like it had been in high school.
“I realized during that time that I had a passion for service projects,” Simington recalled. “It was something I could connect with. In college, I realized I’d have even more opportunities to make a difference.”
Whether the volunteering happens in a group setting like VITA and Circle K Club, through individual efforts, or monetary donations, a recent study by Blackbaud, a non-profit technology provider, found 60 percent of Millennials donated an average of $481 per year across 3.3 charities. The Millennial Impact Report, released last July by fundraising agency Achieve, reported 83 percent of Millennials made a financial gift to an organization in 2012, and 52 percent were interested in monthly giving opportunities.
“In my experience, the Millennial generation is one that is eager and willing to step forward. I may even venture to say they are one of the easiest groups for us to recruit at United Way,” said Tracy Nielsen, chief executive officer of United Way of Kenosha County. She estimates about 500 people under age 21 volunteer with the United Way annually. “They care deeply about making the world a better place, and they want to be involved in the process.”
If these “Gen-Yers” aren’t careful, they could be earning themselves a new nickname: The Giving Generation. That’s just fine with Simington, who said the charitable actions of his peers are one way his generation illustrates “Ubuntu,” an African term that roughly translates to mean “human kindness.”
In light of the recent passing of former South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela, who encouraged people to spread “ubuntu” in their own lives, finding ways to embody the African philosophy is not only timely, but, according to Simington, a reminder of how we all need each other.
“We’re all interconnected,” Simington said. “If I see a homeless guy on the street, he’s my fellow human. He’s someone I share the world with, and because we’re connected in that way, I shouldn’t disregard that.”
Simington also likes to think someone would do the same for him if the tables were turned.
“You don’t know how a change of fortune can affect you,” he said. “No one is immune to the tragedies of life. We all need help at some time.”