Empower Youth through Meaningful Service Learning

“Passion rebuilds the world for the youth.  It makes all things alive and significant,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, Love, First Essays.

Red Hat Ladies enjoying LBHS Senior Ball with Service Learners

Red Hat Ladies enjoying LBHS Senior Ball with Service Learners

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.

Team 2 LBHS Disaster Kits Project Service Learning

Team 2 LBHS Disaster Kits Project Service Learning

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!

What is Service Learning? – National Service-Learning Clearinghouse

National Dropout Prevention Center/Network – Effective Strategies Service Learning

Heifer International – Service Learning and Fundraising Programs


Family Friendly Volunteering – Are You Inspiring a Future of Service?


Mom and Son at Family Volunteer Day

I am a parent.  I volunteer with the youth at church.  My neices and nephews that range from teenagers to toddlers. I help with Geometry, Physics, History, and English. I cheer  the team at football and volleyball games.  I drive 40 minutes for a high school car wash and buy tickets for a restaurant I do not like, just to support fundraisers.  I frequent science fairs, academic decathlons, cheer competitions, and soccer award ceremonies.  Why? Because I want to inspire good students and encourage greatness in the youth I influence.

But, what about the greater good?  With so many demands on our time, how can we instill the value of helping others?  Many parents and youth leaders actively engage children of all ages in community service through volunteering.  Finding the opportunity to cultivate a commitment to service while having a good time may be most challenging.

For liability and logistical reasons, many organizations do not allow volunteers under 16 to participate.  Do not be discouraged! There are a myriad of opportunities to encouragechildren in volunteer work.  Service clubs such as 4-H, Boy Scouts of America, and Girl Scouts of the USA are a great opportunity for youth service.  Faith-based organizations and child friendly community events are another option. Include kids in employer sponsored service projects, or school and sporting events and fundraisers.   Or, create your own volunteer activity with family and friends.  Designing  your efforts to be age-appropriate and enjoyable, expressing gratitude, and ensuring that children understand the purpose of the work and how they are making a difference is very important.

My teenage niece has volunteered with our family since she was 4 years old.  She has visited many lonely elderly neighbors, participated in neighborhood clean ups, served lunch to volunteers, cared for animals, tutored fellow students, supported school events, and much more.  Voluntarily, she joined her high school Key Club and volunteered all summer to support the coaches of the football team.  I am very proud that she has integrated a commitment to community service in her personal values.  I would like to think I played a part in that.

Some of my most exciting volunteer projects include youth.  One group of honor students from a Parochial school system along the West Coast provided 3 days of service to elderly in the community.  These kids were captivated by a 95 year old woman who recited poems that she wrote to her huband over 60 years prior.  Another team of students from a Jewish school in Arizona helped low-income older adults with household tasks.  On Family Volunteer Day, children and their parents made cards to be delivered with gifts for at-risk elderly in the community.  Rotarians, their children, and grandchildren visited isolated seniors in their homes and facilities in the area. There are many ways we can help our kids to make a difference in the world they live in and develop a lifelong commitment to community service.

Are you inspiring a future of service?  Leave a comment.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer!

Are You Maximizing Your Employee Volunteer Program?

Corporate Volunteers Provide Safety Assessments to Elderly Neighbors

Corporate Volunteers Provide Safety Assessments to Elderly Neighbors

Today’s consumer wants to feel good about where he/she does business.  This is a growing sentiment that will determine where consumers spend their dollars.  Through Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives, many businesses contribute a lot of capital, financial and human, to “give back” to the communities where they operate.  However, some companies are not maximizing the return on their community service.  What is your employee volunteer program about?  Are you maximizing your service experience for volunteers, the company, and the community?

When I was in college, I worked for a big bank that engaged in community service through an employee volunteer network.  Each location or city included an employee committee, open to all, which selected local community volunteer projects and recruited employees to participate, while the bank contributed a handsome cash donation to each event.  Some of these events included Junior Achievement, Special Olympics, American River Adopt-A-Parkway, Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure, and more.  These events were awesome.  I made a lot of friends and connections, including the CEO, through the volunteer network activities where employees and retirees with their friends and families volunteered on their own time.

Special Olympics Athletes CSUS

Special Olympics Athletes CSUS

Special Olympics – the crown jewel of events.   Employees from all over the region came out to volunteer in the 3-day event, providing coaching and cheering to developmentally disabled athletes, preparing lunch for all event participants and spectators, hosting medal ceremonies, and the like.  For the athletes, this was the event of a lifetime and volunteers were inspired by the opportunity to make a difference by serving others with severe limitations.  What is more, employees established a rapport with each other through volunteering for a perceived worthy cause, which raised morale in the workplace and throughout the organization.  I met Brian and Shelly from the branch in Elk Grove, who now know employees in the loan center, and we will volunteer together next year too.  It was not uncommon to hear, “I know him from Special Olympics,” “We worked together at Junior Achievement.”

What is the mission of YOUR employee volunteer program?  Are you maximizing the service experience for employees, benefits to the company, and improving the community?   Is your program objective to simply add a recipient to your donation board, or to leverage human capital of your organization to truly make a difference in the community where you do business?  If it is not the latter, you are certainly missing out.

Leave a comment.  Make YOUR difference in the world…Volunteer.