As we enter into the holiday season, many organizations and schools begin conducting service projects to benefit those in need. It is not uncommon to get a note from the school that your child’s class is collecting food for a food drive. We see angel trees at our local churches and stores. Opportunities to teach our kids to give back and to care for their communities are abundant at this time of year.

Service learning opportunities may present themselves in different forms: direct service, indirect service and advocacy. As adults, encouraging our kids to get involved in various levels of service helps to foster the skill of developing a concern for the community. Direct service brings us face-to-face with those in need, providing direct contact with the service recipient(s). Examples include serving meals, volunteering at a shelter, working with the elderly, etc. Indirect service involves performing a service without have direct contact with the recipient. Examples of indirect service are food drives, clothing drives and fundraisers. Advocacy involves educating others about a particular issue with the goal being to eliminate the cause of a particular problem. Examples are writing letters to lawmakers, preparing display posters, and educating others.

How does one choose which level of service in which to be involved? Age of youth involved in the project is certainly a factor along with determining the ultimate educational goal for participants. Youth interest should also be considered. Don’t leave out the “learning” in the service learning project. Allowing youth a voice and decision as to what project they will become involved with is important. Letting kids choose what they will be involved in gives them more ownership in the project. 

To get the most out of your youth service learning project, talk to kids and educate them about “who, what, why and how.” Who are we helping? Who is the direct recipient of the service being provided? Why are we helping this particular group/organization? What is the benefit that is being provided and how does it help our community? Teach kids how to research the needs of the community and determine where their assistance is best needed. Encourage them to learn about the recipients of their service and how their assistance will benefit others in the community.

To learn about potential service opportunities, make contact with decision makers and social service providers in your community. One place to start is with religious groups- local churches, ministerial alliances, etc. School Social Workers may also know of specific needs of families and youth within schools and may possibly be able to offer suggestions. Local food pantries and the Salvation Army serve a need within the community year-round. Local Humane Societies and animal shelters have needs of both goods and services.

4-H’ers pledge their hands to larger service. 4-H clubs are called upon throughout the year to provide service to others in our communities. Kids learn best through hands-on interaction. They get involved in actually doing work to help others and they use their hands to gain new skills within their chosen project area(s) that will serve them as adults. Volunteers and staff work with their hands to teach new skills and demonstrate behaviors and practices for youth to help them grow and learn. 

4-H members pledge to help their club, community, country and world. Did you know that youth involved in 4-H are more likely to become involved in their community as adults and give back? Today’s youth will be making decisions for us later and leading us. 4-H gives them a jump-start to learn how to do that.

For more information, to join or to volunteer your time, contact the Cowley County Extension Office (620) 221-5450, or (620) 441-4565.


Kelsey Nordyke is the 4-H Youth Development Agent at K-State Research and Extension, Cowley County. She can be reached at 221-5450 or (620) 441-4565.

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