Renton teens volunteer time to help others Harnessing the energy of youth

They’re at nearly every community event, in their turquoise T shirts, ready to serve. They are middle and high school students volunteering their time to help others. They are the Renton Youth Council, and Renton City Council member Don Persson says they are the best group of kids he has ever worked with.

They’re at nearly every community event, in their turquoise T shirts, ready to serve. They are middle and high school students volunteering their time to help others. They are the Renton Youth Council, and Renton City Council member Don Persson says they are the best group of kids he has ever worked with.

“Those kids show you what’s right with all the kids of the day,” Persson says. “They’re just great kids, and they give back to the community. It’s just wonderful.”

Renton Youth Council has helped at most community fundraisers and dinners Persson has attended over the last three or four years. The group of teens was at the Rotary Club of Renton’s 22nd Annual Crab Feed in November, Renton Community Foundation’s 8th Annual Circle of Giving Awards Ceremony, and Communities in Schools of Renton’s Annual Benefit Dinner, both in January. Plus a slew of events since then.

“They just do a fantastic job,” Persson says. “A lot of these charity things wouldn’t go on if it weren’t for them.”

Recreation Specialist Tom Puthoff gets a lot of praise for the group of 65 or so teens he manages. So much that it’s hard for the Renton Youth Council adviser to leave events the council attends.

“It’s hard for me to get out at night,” he says. “They keep saying how great the kids are and I say, ‘Yes, they are.’”

Puthoff can’t remember a time when he didn’t receive a thank-you note from an organization the council has assisted.

Those organizations are many. In addition to Rotary, Renton Community Foundation and Communities in Schools of Renton, Renton Youth Council has helped at events for Renton Chamber of Commerce, Renton Technical College and various other area groups.

The council’s help at dinners is mostly serving and cleaning. But the teens are more than just bus boys and girls.

They often provide security at auctions. They also helped young treasure hunters at a couple March egg hunts, and later served as chaperones at Renton Community Center’s Spring Dance for district middle schoolers.

The council has also taken on service projects, like cutting and clearing trails at a Lake Sammamish state park.

“We’re really a youth service club available to help at different events,” Puthoff says.

The council is run by president Tiffany Cho and vice president Melissa Nguyen, both of Hazen, and secretaries Kaitlyn Osborn and Jacki Watson, both of Lindbergh.

With four events, March was a busy month for the youth council. Usually there’s only one event and two meetings a month.

But even that schedule can be cumbersome, Puthoff says, especially for full-time students whose after-school activities include sports, band and orchestra, student government, DECA, drill, theater and work.

And the events are typically on Friday and Saturday nights, when other teens are out having fun with friends.

But many youth council members consider the council’s volunteer events as out having fun with friends.

“I stay in it ‘cause my friends are in it,” says Rebecca Lau, a sophomore at Hazen High School. “It’s really fun, even though the volunteer jobs aren’t always fun.”

“If you get all your friends to go it’s just like hanging out,” adds Tiffany Cho. She most enjoys helping at events for young children, like carnivals and egg hunts.

Requests for the council’s help come to Puthoff. But the students have the final say.

“I always let the group decide whether or not to do it,” he says.

“I don’t think you’ve ever said no as a group to anyone,” Puthoff says to the teens at a recent meeting.

Youth council members aren’t required to volunteer any set amount of time. But most events receive a good turnout. Persson counted at least 20 council members at the Rotary Crab Feed. Council members can sometimes earn school credit for their volunteer work.

Renton Youth Council began in 1995 — the result of a youth summit sponsored by the city’s recreation department at Renton Community Center. Puthoff became adviser in 1997, when “teen specialist” became part of his job description.

Only 20 students were in Renton Youth Council when Puthoff became adviser. Membership once topped 100, but has since stabilized at around 60 to 70 a year.

While the council is intended for Renton middle and high school students, Puthoff admits private school students and even students from outside the district, if they don’t have a youth council in their area.

Most council members are eighth, ninth and 10th graders. At the beginning of the school year, the council had students from every district middle and high school. But membership has decreased as school activities have increased.

But most members who remain in the council are there for good.

With seven years of service, Lindbergh senior Brittany Cruz is the group’s veteran. She joined in sixth grade.

“It kind of ran in the family,” Cruz says. “My oldest sister started doing it right when it first started and my other sister joined after I did.”

“I just enjoy being in it; it’s kind of fun,” Cruz adds.

Most members have probably been with the council two to three years, Puthoff says.

Puthoff does a little council advertising in district schools, but most members apply to join after hearing about the council from friends, or after seeing a council member in his or her bright pink or turquoise tee shirt.

Puthoff’s job as recreation specialist covers many areas. But advising Renton Youth Council is his favorite part.

“This group of kids is the reason why I come to work every day,” Puthoff says. “My favorite part of my job is to be there to experience teenagers making positive choices in their life that they’ll actually see some productive benefits from. They’ll either be more rounded for college, or if they choose not to go to college, get a head start for the work place.”

The members of Renton Youth Council constantly surprise him, Puthoff adds.

“When I was their age I would never have thought of doing something like this,” he says. “And to see that it’s something that they go out of their way to be a part of — it’s pretty neat.”

Emily Garland can be reached at or (425) 255-3484, x. 5052.