“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth. It makes all things alive and significant,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Love, First Essays.
Over the years, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with many youth in my community through service learning. Typically coordinated in group projects over a period of time, youth learn about a concept in the classroom or service club, identify an issue or need in the community, then develop a service solution to mitigate the problem. My projects connected youth with actual needs of real neighbors, and included K-12 students, at-risk high school students, honors programs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, Faith-Based groups, and even college students.
One of my most meaningful experiences included a year-long service learning engagement with high school students. The group was a Public Services Small Learning Community at a high risk school that was termed “Bloodbank,” when I was in high school. This campus is very diverse, including several languages spoken at home and is troubled by a high degree of gang activity. It also boasts one of the most robust Navy JROTC programs in the state that helps students stay out of trouble and attend college.
A student lead committee determined that a lot of elderly people lived in the neighborhood and students voted to focus on serving local senior citizens. The older neighborhood included areas that were 60 to 80% residents 65+ years, so this was a real application of demographics evident to students. The group chose a series of projects relative to issues learned in class, such as disaster preparedness, home safety, and First Aid. Two projects of note included making disaster kits for vulnerable elderly neighbors and a “Senior Ball,” for a low-income senior apartment complex.
For the disaster kits, the youth collected emergency items recommended by FEMA, assembled kits, and made home deliveries. This included writing down contact information for family members, listing any necessary medications, and identifying a specific “go to” location in case of evacuation. I was inspired by the passion of these students acting as stewards for the elderly, and it was apparent they KNEW they made a difference. And of course, the seniors loved the youth attention.
The “Senior Ball” was the culminating event for a year-long adoption of a low-income senior complex. A variety of projects throughout the year focused on these seniors, and students chose to end the year with a dance. The students created the entire night, and I was there to watch the show. The youth solicited donations for all materials and planned the itinerary. It was endearing to watch the kids dancing with older people who came alone. But the real reward was to listen to the passion expressed in their reflections realizing they had the power to make a difference in the lives of others. They were alive and very much…significant.
Service learning is a wonderful opportunity to empower youth to make a difference through service. The links below provide additional resources on how YOU can make a difference through service learning.
Please leave a comment and share your experiences with service learning. Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!