Community Service: Helping Students Understand the Benefits

Posted by Dr. Kristin Joos and Liz Harlan on Thu, Feb 20, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

Empowering NobleLeaders: Helping Students Understand the Benefits of Community Service 

Dr. Kristin Joos and Liz Harlan come together again to help lessen the disconnect between one-time Service Plunges (like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and long-term community service and involvement. Given that hundreds of thousands of Americans participated in service on MLK day, “A Day On, Not a Day Off,” including many college students across the nation, we thought it might be helpful to discuss some tips and strategies for how to leverage the enthusiasm of such events. 

Helping students to understand the benefits of community service can be a great way to sustain their involvement. Community engagement has has the potential for deep reciprocal benefits as students learn to create positive change in the world, and make personal changes in the process.

For example, when I was in high school, I had volunteer experience that was so impactful that it led to my career choice. When I was 17 years old, a junior in high school, I thought I wanted to go into sports medicine or be a big time athletic trainer. In order to gain more service experience and with my mother’s encouragement, I traveled to Nicaragua on a medical service trip with a local church (that I had been to before but was not a member of) for spring break. Every year, the church organizes a Spring Break Youth Medical Mission and allows anyone in the community interested to come on the trip as long as there is room. I had never been out of the country nor had any health care experience, and had no idea what to expect. We stayed in Matagalpa, Nicaragua and traveled one to three hours daily to various rural communities to set up a daily, mobile clinic that consisted of a triage area, doctor and patient tables, pharmacy, and dental clinic. Fortunately, one of my high school soccer teammates was on the trip with me. We were able to bring down soccer balls and play with the kids at the end of each clinic day.

Throughout the week, I practiced my Spanish in triage, shadowed and assisted physicians during their patient interviews, sorted and collected prescriptions in the pharmacy, and witnessed universal gestures of graciousness that transcended language and cultural barriers. The physicians, nurses, and pharmacists on the team were incredible people and role models. They encouraged all the young people to pursue their dreams always with serving others in mind, as well as opened my eyes to the wonders of medicine. When I returned home I told my parents, “I’m going to be a physician in the United States for six months and practice medicine in a developing country the other six months.” That one week in Nicaragua changed my life. It gave me perspective and knowledge about how the majority of the world lives, in poverty without access to essential resources, not only to improve their well-being, but even just to survive. I realized how fortunate I was for my family, my access to education, and to live in the United States. I felt so energized and open at the end of the week, and determined to be a doctor so I could have experiences like that for the rest of my life and hopefully improve the well-being of many diverse people.

The feelings that I experienced while helping people in a healthcare setting seemed almost addictive, I became compelled to want to do more service and to devote my professional career to serving others. Since that first trip, I have been on four medical service trips to Central America and highly recommend any type of service trip (Medical, Construction, Public Health, Education, Environmental, Microfinance, Human Rights, Water) to a developing country to all students. Week-long service trips take volunteering to the next level, in fact, in our next post, we will discuss Spring Break Service Trips (also known as “alternative Spring Breaks”), specifically focusing on encouraging students to get involved and helping them to prepare for these potentially life-changing experiences.

One of the most effective approaches to transforming one-time-volunteers into students-committed-to-service is through reflection. In future posts we will be talking about the process of service reflection in much more detail. Today, though, we'd like to offer three quick tips for faculty to share with service-plunge students, in hopes of leading to their experiencing the same compelling draw towards service, as we've had (and we assume many of you have had as well, as that's likely a big part of why you are involved in service learning as part of your career).

  1. Each time you volunteer, take a few minutes to make notes about what you did, what you learned, and how the experience impacted you. This can be done on scraps of paper, in a personal journal, on your blog (if you have one), posted on social media sites (like Facebook), and NobleHour even has a “journal” feature for students to record their reflections.
  2. Engage in conversation with others to explain what you’ve been doing and why it’s important.  If you are in to photography, ask your supervisor if it’s okay for you to take photos while volunteering (as there may be strict rules requiring permission and releases) and if permitted, enjoy documenting your adventures in service. Again, if you are given permission, you may have fun posting these photos on your own website or blog, on a social media site (like Instagram), or using the “share” tool in NobleHour.
  3. Seek to learn more! Ask people at your volunteer site or service learning faculty at your school about opportunities for you to do similar work-- seek them out and get to know the people involved (attend events, set up informational interviews, and take the leap to attend other service activities).

For more information about how to help students to transform from participants of a one-time service plunge into long-term committed volunteers, leading lives of service, can be found in Don’t Just Count Your Hours, Make Your Hours Count: The Essential Guide to Volunteering and Community Service and by continuing to read our blog. Please be on the lookout for our next post discussing how to help students get involved in and prepare for Spring Break Service Trips.

Topics: service learning, volunteering, community engagement, higher ed, engagement, community service, MLK Day, MLK Day of Service, community service programs, higher education, alternative spring breaks

College Students Use MLK Day to Make a Difference*

Posted by Dolly Duplantier on Fri, Jan 17, 2014 @ 12:00 PM

*This article was updated on 1/12/2015

College students across the country are gearing up for MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 19. What used to be just a day off to sleep in and catch up on homework has become an exciting day for young adults to actively engage in their community through volunteering.

MLK Day 2014Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Life’s most important and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

Dr. King would be proud to see today’s youth answering that question with action. From painting schools and creating gardens, to visiting with the elderly, working in a food pantry or helping out at animal shelters, college students across the country are poised to make a difference this MLK Day of Service.

NobleHour is also proud of the amazing community work performed by its members. Coast to coast, our network of universities are engaging their students in a variety of projects to make a difference in the lives of those in need. Just last year, at the University of Pittsburgh, Janard Pendleton, the program coordinator for Pitt Serves said there were quite a few organized service activities for students and staff to help others throughout the Pittsburgh community. In 2014, over 700 students signed up to volunteer at local organizations like the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pittsburgh Botanic Garden.

The George Washington University has participated in the MLK Day of Service since 2001. Last year, over 600 students, faculty, staff and alumni signed up with the school’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service to work together on a number of direct service projects throughout the D.C. area. The school also offered on-campus CPR training facilitated by EMeRG as part of their MLK Day of Service programming. 

describe the imageMany volunteers will use MLK Day to help elementary schools. Las January, students at University of California at San Diego helped beautify Bayside Elementary School in Imperial Beach, CA. According to Kristin Luciani, social media and communications manager for UC San Diego, the MLK Day of Service is one of their biggest events of the year. “We’re expecting about 150 students, staff and alumni. We maxed out quickly.”

Volunteers last year revitalized a student garden, adding a new herb garden. They also painted stepping-stones to create a pathway, and painted murals on the playground.

Luciani said their goal is to take this one day of service and turn it into something more long term. “We selected that school because one of our student organizations was already partnered with them. It’s an opportunity to expand and get more of the campus community involved."

Luciani added that their partnership is strengthened by having alumni and student groups follow-up with the school with return visits throughout the year. UC San Diego Volunteer on MLK Day

Students at Emerson College Los Angeles also worked to spruce up the Horace Mann Middle School. Volunteers with City Year  painted educational murals, inspirational quotes and college logos throughout the school to help make a more engaging learning environment for the students.

Miami University’s Office of Community Engagement and Service has a number of projects set up for MLK Day. Students will volunteer locally in the community at various organizations. Last year, students played bingo with the elderly, stocked food at the Oxford Community Choice Pantry, and worked with animals for the Animal Adoption Foundation.

Volunteers in Ohio also helped paint and refurbish a property purchased by Sojourner Recovery Services, a non-profit that provides substance abuse treatment for adults, adolescents and their families. Eileen Turain, development director of the organization, said she enjoys working with the students from Miami University’s Hamilton campus and the Connect2Complete program. "We've worked with the students before and they've been very helpful. This facility helps people needing and wanting our services and programming."

The MLK Day of Service is also a day of celebration. Many organizations incorporate festivities along with their service projects. In addition to organizing a number of volunteer opportunities and educational activities, Greenville Technical College in South Carolina had a Giving Station last year for students at their Barton Campus Student Center. Students made donations to Habitat for Humanity of Greenville County, and also rotated through service stations where they made sandwiches for agencies serving the hungry, appreciation cards for veterans and service members, and created toys for groups helping animals in shelters. 

Dr. King said, "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." 

This MLK Day, find time to address the broader concerns of your community. Join hundreds of thousands of people in making an impact. If you’re still looking for volunteer opportunities, visit the NobleHour website or the MLK Day of Service website for listings. Remember, it’s not just a day off. It's a day for you to be on and active in your community. Don't forget to let us know about your MLK Day of Service projects so we can share the good news!

Photo credit: Erik Jepsen/UC San Diego Publications.

Topics: #MLKDay, volunteering, community engagement, community service, engagement, service, community, civic engagement, opportunities, involvement, MLK Day, MLK Day of Service, active

MLK Day of Service - A Starting Point to Serve Year Round

Posted by Dolly Duplantier on Wed, Jan 08, 2014 @ 09:00 AM

A New Year is upon us. Every January 1, I think about the resolutions I’ve made in the past and resolve to do again– eat better, exercise more, be more patient, get organized, etc., etc. While these are good resolutions, most of them really only affect my family and me. So, I decided, my resolutions should be about something more than just improving myself. It’s time for me to help others – not in some grand way, but in simple ways every month. Therefore, rather than working on my resolutions just one month a year (January) and forgetting them the other 11 months, I’ve decided January is my starting point. 

As we approach the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and reflect on his message of civic engagement, let us embrace the fact that one person can make a difference. Just imagine if we stay true to that and what can happen with millions of individual acts of kindness and service. If one of your resolutions is to volunteer more, then this January 19th, the MLK Day of Service, is the perfect day to begin your transformation.

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), volunteers across the country pledged over 1.3 million hours of service in 2013 for the MLK Day of Service. Established in 1993, CNCS is a federal agency that engages more than five million Americans in service through programs like Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and the Volunteer Generation Fund.

The MLK Day of Service is part of United We Serve, the President’s national service initiative. In addition, it is the only federal holiday observed as a national day of service – “a day on, not a day off!”

MLK Day is a chance to start the year off right by making an impact in your community. CNCS works with the King Center, other federal agencies, schools, nonprofit and community groups, faith-based organizations, and corporations throughout the U.S. to encourage everyone to volunteer and be engaged in their community by participating in one of thousands of organized service-oriented projects. From collecting food and clothing, to cleaning and painting schools and youth centers, or supporting veterans and visiting with the elderly, everyone can use the day off to make some kind of difference.

You don’t have to be part of a group to participate. There are many opportunities for individuals to take advantage of the day. Don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips:

Start local and check with your student’s school’s service coordinator. Find out what they are doing and ask to help. Chicago Public Schools has different events planned for the month of January. In 2014, teachers signed up for specific events ranging from working with food pantries to educational seminars aimed at reducing handgun violence. Teachers received curriculum and follow-up materials to connect the activities to MLK Day. Hundreds of students participated in organized community service activities throughout the month.

“All of the events are about building the community through volunteering, the goal of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Ryan Evans, who works for AmeriCorps Vista in the CPS Literacy department to coordinate community service learning opportunities for students.

If you prefer to do something outside of school, then consider calling your local faith based, community or non-profit organizations. Many have on-going service projects and are always looking for volunteers. The NobleHour website also lists thousands of community engagement opportunities throughout the U.S. Another option is to check your city or state’s website for information about volunteer programs.

The MGR Foundation, has locations in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Charlotte, the Twin Cities and Las Vegas. The non-profit provides direct service to communities with a variety of programs.

Chicago Cares

Chicago Cares honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s message of unity through community service. Tens of thousands of volunteers participate in service projects each year through the non-profit service organization.

Last January alone, approximately 1,400 people served in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. specifically (either as individuals or through their corporations).

The MLK Day of Service website can also help direct you to local opportunities to perform community service. If you can’t find anything that moves you, create your own project with MLK Day Toolkits. Topics range from disaster services and education, to the environment, health and writing letters to the troops.  

If all of this seems overwhelming, don’t let that deter you. Remember, it’s about helping others. Check in on an elderly neighbor and pick up extra groceries for them. Go through your closets and donate your gently used clothing. Donate food to a local food pantry. As I mentioned before, it doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, but just a simple act of kindness. Start small and go from there.

My daughter and I decided to make sandwiches for the homeless the other day. We filled bags with PB&J sandwiches, fruit, granola bars and a few pieces of chocolate. We took the train downtown and then handed out the bags to homeless people we passed along the way. It was a cold day and there were not many people out, but we were able to help at least four individuals. It wasn’t much, but it was a start in our New Year’ resolution to help others. It didn’t require a lot of planning and we had everything on hand. It was a simple act that we will strive to do more often.

January is the start of something new. MLK Day is a reminder to be an active part of our community, not just for a day or month, but every day in some manner. Helping others empowers us and strengthens our communities. What are you going to do this January? Let us know your progress each month!

Topics: service learning, volunteering, community engagement, community service, engagement, service, community, civic engagement, CNCS, opportunities, MLK Day, nonprofit, active

Subscribe via E-mail

Latest Posts

Need help measuring volunteer initiatives? Learn more about NobleHour

Posts by category

Follow Me