Primer on Volunteerisms

Primer on Volunteerism for Kids

Getting kids involved in their communities is one of the principal goals of LEARNING ADVENTURES IN CITIZENSHIP: FROM NEW YORK TO YOUR TOWN. The following ideas for specific service projects are geared directly towards kids in middle school. And the "Helpful Hints" at the end will provide teachers and parents with suggestions for any kind of volunteer project.

Ideas for Service Projects

Human Rights Related:

  • The class can research issues related to unfair labor practices and Democracy in Action prisoners. Amnesty International is the best resource for this effort. In addition, students can write letters to the local media, to celebrities and athletes who endorse products made by child laborers, and, of course, to the companies themselves. In addition, students can prepare petitions to accompany their letters and hold issue forums at school to educate their classmates on the issue.

Citizenship Programs:

  • Students today have a unique advantage when it comes to technology. Students who are able can assist in a local citizenship effort by providing English as a Second Language support and serving as basic computer tutors.
  • Call a local International Center and see what needs the organization has that the class can help with. This could include doing a clothing drive, collecting small amounts of money that can be donated, or even having the students host a party for newly arrived immigrants and their families.
  • Contact the local League of Women Voters or Board of Elections and ask how the class can help register people to vote. Students can ask family members or teachers to register either as a "mock" election or the real thing.
  • Have your class identify an issue that they are learning more about or are reading about in the papers and have them arrange a school forum with local speakers. Next, the class can prepare their ideas on how to solve the problem and present it to local government or school officials.

Business Initiatives:

  • Your class can become small business entrepreneurs by working with a local Junior Achievement organization or by managing a project yourselves. Decide on an item or items you want to sell and build a business plan to make, market, and sell your products. Ideas could include having bake sales during school activities, making school t-shirts or hats, or other "school-spirit" ideas. Pick a local charity that you are working with on another community service project and donate your proceeds to that group.
  • Organize a career day or "success" day to learn about the variety of career opportunities that students’ parents or community leaders are involved in.

Transportation Alternatives:

  • Create new routes for students who take a bus or subway to school. Figure out how else students can get to school.
  • Do a class project that ensures that all stop signs and street signs in your community are well marked. Create a community service project to make any necessary changes by writing to local governments or by removing signs, posters and stickers that are blocking the traffic signals or signposts.
  • Create a campaign that deals with anti-pollution issues such as developing a recycling program for students at school and at home or having students encourage biking and walking as alternatives to driving.

Projects with the Homeless & Hungry:

  • Have the class volunteer to work in a soup kitchen or food pantry or have the class take up a canned food collection to distribute to local agencies.
  • Collect items and create care packages for adults and children -- items could include toiletries or school items.
  • Run a used clothing or hats-and-gloves drive and donate the items to a local agency.
  • Offer to paint a colorful mural or build a small garden space at a local agency that supports homeless children.

Support the School Community:

  • Have the class work together to clean up a vacant lot in the neighborhood and replace it with garden space.
  • Clean up trash in the neighborhood or plant flowers in front of the school building.
  • Paint a mural at the school or in the playground/park.
  • Have the class "adopt" a group of students in a younger grade and do some of the service projects with that group or do other fun and educational activities with them such as reading or arts & crafts.


Things to Remember When Working with Senior Citizens

  • Bring a cheerful attitude to the day. Instead of focusing on aging issues (immobility, illness, or frailty), focus on having a positive interaction with the senior.
  • Be patient. Take your time communicating, and try to use your senior's name frequently. Seniors may not move or talk as fast as they have in the past, so making eye contact, speaking clearly at a moderate level, and maintaining a calm, positive attitude will help establish a pleasant atmosphere for interaction.
  • Be a great listener. Encourage your senior to tell you about his or her past. Topics such as their families, work experiences, and growing up years are often easier for seniors to remember recent events since in many cases their long-term memories are in better shape than their short-term memories.
  • Use all of your resources to communicate. Remember that your presence is what is important. Even if your senior is having trouble communicating with you verbally, you can still show you care by using non-verbal communication. When a senior says something that you do not understand, respond with a neutral comment or compliment. If your senior becomes confused with the activity or conversation, do not panic. Your companionship, and the impact of your company is what really matters.
  • When interacting with a person in a wheelchair, try to stay at eye level. Pull up a chair and sit for an extended conversation. If your senior is capable of wheeling her own chair, allow and encourage her to do so. Ask your senior if he is ready to go before you move the chair, and remind him where you are going.


Helpful Hints

When planning any community service project, there are some basic rules that are essential to follow to ensure that everyone has a beneficial and meaningful experience. Volunteer service should be something that significantly benefits a community, school, or agency and serves as a learning experience for the volunteer. If possible, you want the students to be able to "see" the impact that their service has had.

  • Leave yourself at least six weeks of planning time for any service project.
  • If your class is going to work with an outside organization, be sure to communicate with that agency early and often. Remember that not all agencies have the capacity to manage "one-shot" volunteer opportunities and while they may have extraordinary needs, they may not be able to work with your students. If possible, try to find an agency that has experience working with young people.
  • If possible, do a "site visit" of the agency and review the project carefully with the agency staff so that everyone involved understands the expectations and how the day/project will progress. Be clear about what you want to get out of the project in the time you have allotted and with the number of students who will be participating. In addition, it is critical to let the agency know of any changes in the number of volunteers who will be participating as you get closer to the project -- this can change the nature and work of the project.
  • Discuss any supply needs that might exist and whether the agency or school will be providing them. Also, use the site visits to determine transportation needs. Is there a place for the students to clean up, meet for reflection time, and eat if necessary? Finally, be realistic with yourself and the agency about what can be accomplished during the project. If the work is not finished, try to make arrangements to return.
  • Service reflection is an essential element of any service project, especially one that relates to classroom activity like the Learning Adventures in Citizenship project. Reflection is something that should happen before, during, and after a project. As you begin the project, ask students what they expect to get out of it and as the day progresses, remind them of the goals of the exercise. Post-project reflection should be more in-depth and should also include having the students communicate with the agency they’ve worked with, writing a report on what they did and learned from the experience, and evaluating the project.
  • If your project is going to take place outdoors, make alternate plans in case of rain. First, decide whether your project is rain or shine. Second, prepare for work that can be done indoors or, if that is not possible, be sure to confirm rain dates with the agency you’re working with well in advance of the actual dates.


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