As schools and universities explore innovative ways to engage their students, several institutions have begun using service learning projects as a creative option. Extensive research has revealed the many benefits of participating in service learning for youth, which includes interacting with people of diverse cultures and lifestyles, reducing stereotypes, and facilitating cultural and racial understanding. Engaging youth in this way also prepares them for the job market, enables them to apply what they are learning in the real world, and provides them with additional opportunities to be of service to their community.
As the volunteer coordinator for the City of Houston, I have had the pleasure of seeing several instances where service learning projects have not only taught youth valuable lessons, helped to bring their communities together. One such incident occurred during the Tax Day floods of 2016. After the flooding, a group of youth contacted my office because they wanted to organize a cleanup in their neighborhood. The youth discussed their volunteering options at school and decided to put their plan in action. These young people targeted senior citizens in their neighborhood that required assistance removing items from their homes that were destroyed. After they completed the project, they made a vow to continue serving senior citizens in their community. One adolescent even began a nonprofit organization helping seniors, an organization that exists to this day.
Following that wonderful and worth-while experience, I had the pleasure of partnering with Youth Services of America (YSA), a national organization, that trains, develops, and supports youth-led service learning projects. Last year, through a grant from YSA, I was able to partner with Harris County Juvenile Probation Leadership Academy to help several students from the academy that participated in a September 11th service learning project, honoring military veterans. These youth discovered their own family service history and learned about the importance of military service, while making care packages for veterans and their families. These two-separate service learning projects, taught the youth about the importance of service and taking responsibility for their communities, all while imparting valuable life lessons about redemption, military service, business development, kindness, and proving that their voice not only matters, but it also counts. Therefore, I believe that volunteering through service learning projects is such a beneficial option. Local schools and universities should take advantage of this valuable learning tool that brings information learned in the classroom and brides it with service in our communities.