The teen population of Manatee County Florida saw quite a need, and in 1995 they banned together and formed the ManaTEEN Club. This club was founded to encourage youth volunteerism as well as bridging the gap which was so apparent in their community at the time. Manatee County’s elderly population is more than 68,000 compared to the teen population of a little more than 12,000. Five years later, the ManaTEEN Club is considered the nation’s largest teen volunteer program with more than 10,000 active members who donate in excess of one million hours of service annually in southwest Florida.
ManaTEENs represent every public, private, charter and alternative middle school and high school in their area. Though there is no community service requirement for graduation from a Manatee County High School, this organization was birthed on the shoulders of the teens. They volunteer because they are empowered to make a difference – they want to volunteer and do not do it because they have to.
ManaTEENs lead hundreds of training workshops to promote youth as decision makers and community leaders. They are taught the skills to identify unmet needs and the support system to find creative solutions to meet those needs by their peers. ManaTEEN assist over four hundred not-for-profit organizations, schools, retirement centers, communities of faith and hospitals. In addition to that, they develop several direct-service programs to benefit the community. Some of the on-going programs include: Adopt-a-grandparent, Home Safety for Seniors, Youth Service Learning Council, Ties That Bind, MERIT, Carousel Kids, Weekend Dads and Operation Painteen. The Adopt-a-Grandparent program connects 500 teens with 500 seniors who live alone. The teens assist with transportation, shopping and healthy communication. Teens conduct safety needs assessments in the Home Safety for Seniors Program.
The Youth Service Learning Council is a grant council which meets throughout the year to solicit, review, select and administer more than $30,000 annually in mini-grant funding for service-learning projects. The ManaTEENS coordinate temporary shelter for homeless families and assist them in finding resources who can help them on a permanent basis through the Ties That Bind program. MERIT stands for ManaTEEN Emergency Response Initiative Team. This program trains teens to operate emergency shelters and dispatch workers in case of a disaster in Manatee County. Carousel Kids connects teens certified in child care with families in need of episodic baby-sitting, and Weekend Dads encourages non-custodial fathers to spend quality time with their children. Each week, ManaTEENS in the Operation Painteen paint the exterior of homes for low-income families that otherwise would not have that service.
The ManaTEENS are a force not only in Manatee County but throughout Florida. They spend summers and holidays traveling throughout the state and the rest of the country assisting other Volunteer Centers in developing their own teen initiatives.