Editor’s Note: Laura Robertson is the Youth Services Specialist at the Hanover County Department of Community Resources, located in Ashland, VA. She serves as the advisor to the Hanover Youth Service Council. She also coordinates Hanover’s Promise activities and Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) in Hanover County. Her favorite part of the job is empowering youth to become problem-solvers and change-makers in their community by developing their leadership skills and expanding their world view and knowledge base through service.
I visited the Positive Action Club (PAC), an afterschool program at Henry Clay Elementary in Ashland, VA, to talk with students about service. PAC is supported by the Hanover County Community Services Board and receives mentoring services from Randolph-Macon College students and a group of teen volunteers, the Hanover Youth Services Council (HSYC).
When we talked about community service, the children, sitting cross-legged on the school library’s area rug, spoke avidly about their school’s penny fundraiser to support the Children’s Hospital. They said they participated because they wanted to help sick and disabled kids. When I asked students what else they could do to help sick children I was met with a dozen stares. Then one boy raised his hand and suggested we collect and donate board games to the hospital. The children turned their heads and a lively conversation ensued about project logistics. Without adult facilitation and within minutes, the children went from simply wanting to collect games to delivering and playing the games with the children in the hospital so, as one student put it, “we could really get to know them.”
“Could our big buddies come, too?” another student asked, referring to their college-age and teen mentors.
“They could drive us,” another child said.
I couldn’t help but grin. It can be challenging to get adults to identify a need, visualize a solution and begin to identify steps they would need to take, or the partnerships they would need to make, in order to move towards the desired result. The PAC kids had done this in less than five minutes.
Regarding their capacity to identify appropriate possible partners, I admit that PAC had an advantage. They had already developed a relationship with HYSC and students from Randolph-Macon. PAC has partnered and played with both groups before. When creating partnerships for GYSD, it is as equally logical to start with your friends on the playground.
Identifying Partners & Creating Partnerships
So, who will you partner with for GYSD and how will you create your partnerships?
Here are some things I think about when identifying partners that may help you get started:
· Identify the need
I need a lot of people and things to make GYSD happen in my community. From a donated recreation center to pizza for my volunteers running our Kick-Off party, I have a long to-do list. Once I know what I need and what needs to get done, I think about the people and the organizations that could help me.
· Identify who can help you meet your needs for GYSD
When I match my needs with my current and potential friends in the community I end up with a list of businesses, schools, college service clubs, nonprofits and more. Youth-serving organizations like the YMCA, 4-H and schools are natural partners. But partners exist in other places as well. Businesses, individuals, Rotary Clubs and even organizations overseas are all potential life-long buddies. YSA has an extensive list of partners who have an interest in youth service and serves as a great starting point.
Also, remember that youth are your partners, too. Young people motivate their peers to lead and participate in GYSD. Youth can reach their busy teachers during class, their parents who own a local business, their athletic teams, etc.
· Know how to make friends and be a good partner
Sometimes it’s hard to make friends. Luckily, GYSD is an inclusive event that broadens your potential partner pool. When asking to partner clearly express your needs but remember, it’s not all about you either. Tell businesses how their participation will be recognized, accentuate to other youth organizations how GYSD offers leadership and service opportunities to students, and tell people how GYSD benefits the community.
So, call up folks, set up meetings or blast out a few emails and you will be well on your way to creating new partnerships.
For more information on this subject YSA has an excellent GYSD Toolkit available online; about a dozen pages are dedicated to partnerships.
Editor’s Note: Danny Heggen is the Youth Program Coordinator for Community!Youth Concepts (CYC) in Des Moines, Iowa, a youth-development organization working to ensure all Iowa youth have access to high quality opportunities that prepare them for school, work and life. CYC is a current Lead Organizer for the Sodexo Foundation's Grant through YSA. The video below shows highlights from the CYC MLK Day of Service project.
With Global Youth Service Day (GYSD) approaching quickly, it is time to begin planning to plan. Planning to plan. That’s right. This is what we adults need to set in place before youth come in and take over.
Throughout my summer vacations from college, I painted barns with my dad. I carry one piece of advice from those days: preparation is 90% of the job. We had to dust, tape, lay down plastic, and after checking our paint was in front of us, (as to not step backward into it) we could begin painting. The painting went fast. And when we took our time up front, when we were done, we got to celebrate. This was a different story, however, if the work upfront wasn’t thorough.
Now, as the youth program coordinator for Community! Youth Concepts in Des Moines, Iowa, I share this experience (maybe too often.) I help youth develop and implement service-learning projects throughout central Iowa. In the past year, I have worked with more than 50 groups of youth to design and lead their own projects.
The key to success? Preparation.
3 Ways to Prepare
Our end goal of GYSD is to engage and unite youth across the world in service. This is what needs to happen. What we need to know is how to prepare for this.
Here are 3 “Must-Do” steps I follow when organizing projects:
1. Talk about what we expect of ourselves. We must first think about what we want and need to accomplish as an organization. There are outcomes our funders expect. There are practices my organization expects. Having a conversation about these will get us started on the right foot.
2. Talk with community partners about what we expect of each other. It is important to discuss what each group will offer, what kind of timelines need to be met, and what kind of budgets each is working with. The questions addressed upfront will lead to greater understanding once the project is moving forward.
3. Set parameters for youth:
c. Skill Expectations
d. Service Expectations
This combines everything we need and our community partners expect. When we are ready to bring youth together, these parameters provide structure, yet it provides them with an opportunity to voice their own ideas and choose how they will meet these outcomes.
Or, as I like to think about it: this is the box youth get to think outside of.
How these get put into practice is up to you. I like to brainstorm ideas in small and throw ideas up on big blank sheets of paper. Then, if a project doesn’t fit the parameters, we save it for another time.
With proper preparation, youth can begin to plan for GYSD with clear expectations and supports in place. If we are not prepared, we can expect the opposite.
Also, stock up on big blank sheets of paper. The first time I arrived at a planning meeting without these was the only time I’ve shown up for a planning without them. It was a terrible fail. The youth couldn’t see my parameters and they couldn’t see their ideas develop.
Our goal as adults working with youth should be to create a structured environment that supports youth engagement and interaction. We must think about how we can create this environment and make it happen.
Editor’s Note: Nicki Sanders, MSW, Chief Visionary Officer of The Teen Toolbox is a mother, youth advocate, and life skills strategist that has been employed in the human services field for over a decade. The Teen Toolbox promotes youth portfolio development, civic engagement, and academic enrichment to help youth set goals for life after high school and create a road map to reach those goals. The signature service offered by The Teen Toolbox is its"Packaged For Success" youth portfolio program.
Ms. Sanders learned of YSA while completing her master's program in social work. In her work with youth and commitment to volunteerism, she has found YSA to be an invaluable resource to help raise awareness about the benefits and opportunities for youth to make a positive impact on their communities and our world.
In our work world, evidence-based practice and evidence-based research is king. Objectives, outcomes, and goals are commonplace. In my supervisory role, I stress that we have to have proof that what we are doing really works. Recently, I was thinking about Dr. Martin Luther King Day marking the kickoff YSA’s Semester of Service and decided to go a bit further and hit the Internet to find documentation that supports what I have seen in my experience and know in my heart is an effective aspect of youth development.
I searched many websites using variations of the phrase “youth in foster care volunteer.” I came across a 2007 press release for a survey conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service titled, “Disadvantaged Teens Benefit from Volunteering, But Do it Less than Better-Off Peers.” There were key points from the study that proved useful information, such as ‘service can have a powerful impact on a young person’s life.” But what I found most interesting and not surprising at all is that all the other articles and searches resulted in requests for the community to volunteer to help “youth in foster care”, “foster Youth”, “youth aging out of foster care”, “youth in impoverished communities” and the list went on and on. The youth that I am working with were constantly being referred to as recipients of services rather than service providers. As I searched I kept thinking to myself, Ms. Nicki you have a lot of work to do.
I teach my youth that they do not have to be victims of their environment and that their current circumstances do not exclude them from greatness. Our youth have so much to offer. Our job is to help them recognize and nurture their strengths, talents, and skills. I use community service opportunities to build connections, explore careers, gain work experience, and instill a sense of accomplishment in the youth we work with. I was delighted to find that the press release from Corporation for National and Community Service quoted CEO David Eisner, “We need to do two things: reach more disadvantaged youth through service, and help more providers of youth services to engage young people as assets rather than simply treating them as clients.” Although I’m not a fan of the term “disadvantaged youth” (I do like that term hundred times more than the term “at risk youth”), it was as if Mr. Eisner was reading my mind and I want to thank him for his statement.
So, if no one else has told you before I want to be the first to say that your youth are youth “at promise.” I wholeheartedly believe that all youth need opportunities to succeed and recognition for a job well done. Working to improve their lives, communities, and the lives of other youth in similar situations can provide an awesome opportunity for you to uncover the passion for making a difference in youth you work with.
Editor's Note: Teacher facilitators worked to develop a food insecurity project with students from the Edward Gideon School in Philadelphia where more than 93% of students are economically disadvantaged. The focus was on understanding both the issues of local and global hunger and the ways in which these issues are part of a larger discussion in the community. Explorations of this issue emphasized the manner in which these students encounter hunger related issues on a daily basis in their own school and community. Through the development of partnerships, research, writing and video production, students gained a deeper knowledge and understanding of food insecurity. Gideon students presented their findings to the community and developed a permanent display of their findings in prominent accessible locations in their area. In the blog post below, Justus, a student at Gideon shares his experience visiting a feeding program for their hunger-focused service-learning project.
Hey, my name is Justus. I’m in the middle in the picture above. I’m a student participating in the Sodexo Hunger Project at Edward Gideon School. We were at the SHARE Food Program. We took a tour of the garden at SHARE. We were able to see what kinds of things we might be able to grow in our garden beds at school. We saw lots of vegetables like peppers, eggplants, lettuce, squash, and greens. We got to taste some of the vegetables. We also got to take some vegetables home. I’m holding an eggplant that I took home to make eggplant parmesan.
We also volunteered to help package food and assemble boxes for packing. The SHARE program will sell the boxes of food that are packaged to their members. This is a good program for the community because people can purchase healthy foods for less money.
Watch this video of the Gideon students visiting the SHARE program:
Kelsey Yeager is a senior at Damascus High School. She is interested in majoring in environmental science and marketing when she attends college. She found out about SLP from an alumn of the program, and was really excited when she found out that this year they would work on hunger and homelessness issues.
Avanti Mehta is a senior at Clarksburg High School. She is planning on majoring in pre med and anthropology next year in college. She found about the SLP program from her school counselor and loves being a part of the program. Learning about hunger and homelessness has definitely influenced her desire to help others.
On Wednesday, December 7, 2011, Sodexo, YSA, and Share Our Strength teamed up with the SLP of Montgomery County to have an informative discussion about hunger and homelessness issues. SLP is an honors career and leadership development program for Montgomery County high school seniors. The program allows students to acquire an internship reflective of entry-level work performed by college graduates and participate in interactive seminars and community projects. This year, our SLP class is doing a Hunger and Homelessness project. We focus on fighting hunger in Montgomery County, with a strong emphasis on childhood hunger.
Going into the Sodexo meeting as a mere high school senior was nerve-racking to say the least. Our SLP group met with and present to Sodexo executives about our efforts to combat hunger and homelessness. We have accomplished a lot already, such as donating our time and resources to volunteering at A Wider Circle adopting two families. However, we were still worried that they would view us simply as “kids. ” To our surprise, the meeting surpassed even the highest of our expectations! The executives were great; they all were very friendly, intelligent, and inspiringly supportive. We discussed how to be the best leaders we could be, how to make the most out of our internship experience, and how to solve issues regarding hunger in our county. We were astonished to find out one out of five children in the United States are not able to get enough food and even more astonished to find out that statistic used to be one out of four children!
We also simulated buying food on a low income family’s budget; we only had a small amount of money each week to allocate for food. Despite trying our best to consider factors such as variety and nutrition, we had to make the decision to skip one meal because we couldn’t afford it. We have always known that hunger was a serious issue, but it did not truly hit home until we put ourselves in their shoes. Now, knowing exactly how big the issues of hunger and homelessness are, we feel so proud that our group is actually making a difference.
Like our Facebook page to stay updated about our project and see our activities: SLP’s Help the Homeless Awareness Project .
Find out more about YSA’s Sodexo School Engagement grants here: http://www.ysa.org/grants/sodexoschool.
Editor’s Note: Sean Russell is a member of the YSA Youth Council and a conservationist and environmental activist whose work includes serving as the director and founder of the youth-driven, marine debris prevention effort, the “Stow It-Don’t Throw It” Project. He volunteers with the environmental education programs with Florida 4-H, the Florida Aquarium, and the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. He is also a member of the Florida 4-H Foundation Board of Directors and the State Farm Youth Advisory Board.
At a very special event, Florida’s first Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, my work as a youth environmentalist came full circle when, with the help of fellow environmentalists and environmental organizations, I led over 100 youth participants through the necessary steps to create and launch ocean conservation projects. Middle and high school aged students from all over the state attended this event hosted by Mote Marine Laboratory. They came as individuals and in groups, to learn about current threats facing marine ecosystems and to spend time planning projects designed to tackle these threats.
Keynote speaker, SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Animal Ambassador, Julie Scardina, opened the Summit with a state of our oceans talk detailing where work needs to be done to save our planet’s marine ecosystems. We also shared video messages from youth who have launched successful conservation projects. The videos showed participants that young people like themselves have changed and will continue to bring the change needed to reverse current destructive trends facing marine environments.
After a brief lunch break, participants choose from a selection of planning workshops to assist them with their projects. Representatives from the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, Tampa Bay Estuary Program, Gulf Coast Community Foundation, One More Generation, the Florida Aquarium, Brevard Zoo, Florida 4-H, Mote Marine Laboratory’s SeaTrek Program and Mote’s Marine Policy Institute, and mentors from Mote’s Research and Education departments, worked together with local teachers and volunteers to teach participants the steps needed to start, fund, publicize, and communicate the message of their respective projects.
Projects planned at the summit included planting projects to restore estuary areas in Sarasota Bay, school projects aimed at educating peers about important environmental issues, recycling projects, media presentations to raise awareness about ocean conservation issues, and work to help expand the efforts of the Stow It – Don’t Throw It fishing line recycling project.
The Stow It Don’t – Throw It project and this Summit are products of my own personal ocean conservation work and ways I hope to continue to involve youth in ocean conservation work, so I was thrilled with the outcome of this event! Participants are now part of a newly forming Youth Ocean Conservation Team that will continue to receive support through additional educational information, project funding information and forum to share their projects with each other. At next year’s conference I hope to highlight the work of many of these new projects at our second Youth Ocean Conservation Summit!
I am thankful for all who gave their time and their financial backing to help make this event not only informative, but also affordable. Their support as well as the support of each and every person involved in marine conservation, is needed to enable the next generation of conservationists, today’s youth, to do their part to protect our planet’s oceans for future generations to enjoy!
For more information about the StowIt-Don’t Throw It project and our Youth Ocean Conservation Summit visit www.stowitdontthrowitproject.org or “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stowitdontthrowit!
Pictured (from l to r): Sean Russell, keynote speaker and SeaWorld/Busch Gardens Animal Ambassador Julie Scardina, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program scientist Kim Bassos-Hull, and Mote Marine Laboratory VP of Education, Jim Wharton at the 2011 Youth Ocean Conservation Summit.
Editor's Note: Dawn Schmidt is a middle school language arts teacher at St. Stephens Indian School in St. Stephens, Wyoming. read more