Cook County Youth Volunteer Program returns to the community
Cook County Youth Volunteer Program

Cook County Youth Volunteer Program returns to the community

After a five-year hiatus, a youth volunteer program returns to Cook County. 

Plans to reinstate the Cook County Youth Volunteer Program, formerly known as ‘The Incredible Exchange,’ is underway at the Community Center. 

The program started in St. Louis County in the 1990s in conjunction with the University of Minnesota. In the early 2000s, the program was implemented by the former Community Center Director Diane Booth in Cook County. However, in 2018 the program was put on pause. 

“We’re excited to be bringing the program back,” said Leanne Avery, the Community Center assistant. “In the past, it has been a very popular program.”

Avery explained youth would learn the value and satisfaction of serving in the community and gain valuable skills and experience that will help them discover their passions and prepare for their future. The program is intended for youth in Cook County ages 11-14. 

The Community Center is actively accepting applications for local non-profit and governmental organizations to host the youth during the upcoming summer break. 

Youth will be trained and guided by designated, screened site mentors throughout the volunteer experience. In years prior, non-profit and governmental organizations such as the Grand Marais food shelf, YMCA, Grand Marais campground, Birch Grove Community School, Cooperation Station, Grand Marais Playhouse, Cook County Historical Society, The Hub, and Grand Portage National Monument, among many others have participated in the program. 

“We’re already getting some applications coming in from sites that are willing and eager to take part,” Avery said. “We’re just hoping to get a wide variety of sites so that our kids have some great choices for serving this summer.”

Once the Community Center has a list of participating sites, it will begin taking applications for youth participants. The program allows up to 30 students to participate. 

After the youth have completed their required 25-50 volunteer hours, they receive a certificate redeemable for the recreational or cultural activity of their choice, says Avery. In the past, youth have used their reward certificates for music lessons, art classes, ski passes, golf passes, and more. 

“If we can succeed in passing on this vision to the youth that are participating, we’re going to see youth continue to volunteer in different capacities throughout their youth and adult lives,” Avery said. “Which is a great bonus for the community.”

Non-profits and governmental organizations interested in signing up for the Cook County Youth Volunteer Program can sign up here or by calling the Community Center at 218-387-3015.

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Leanne Avery following the media release of the 2023 Cook County Youth Volunteer Program to learn more. Audio from the interview is below.