Why we’re thankful

This time of year, we’re asked to look on the bright side – no matter the unrest, injustice, or terror we see around us. In fact, it’s precisely because of such trying times that it’s important to take stock of what we have, and give thanks.

  1. We’re thankful for security. So many are struggling to find safety, a home, and we at NYLC refuse to take for granted the privileged circumstances we enjoy.
  2. We’re thankful to live in a country that not only supports peaceful protest and differing points of view – it enshrines this right in the First Amendment to our Constitution.
  3. We’re thankful that young people perform such a vital role in our mission. The inheritors of our world are rarely called upon to shape its future. We see the flaw in that and are thankful for passionate youth leaders who accept this endeavor.

Part of our mission is to create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world. Now more than ever we appreciate how necessary that charge is. With youth at the fore, we strive to address the genuine needs of people across the globe – so that everyone has something for which to be thankful.

Breaking Down #SLC16

The 2016 National Service-Learning Conference® is Educate. Ignite. Transform. So what does that mean? Let’s break it down:

Since this conference is for everyone, we have many opportunities for you to get involved.

First, you can simply attend. Register by December 18 to get the Early Bird rate.

You can nominate one of your peers for a National Service-Learning Award to be presented at #SLC16. Young people: apply to become a Youth Emcee and present on a national stage. Deadline for each is December 4.

» Nominate a service-learning leader
» Apply to be a Youth Emcee

Finally, you can showcase your project to the entire service-learning audience. Submit a showcase proposal by Friday, January 15, 2016.

Belts On in Belton

At Belton High School, a Project Ignition school in Belton, Mo., students are saving teen lives through a campaign to educate about the importance of seatbelt usage. In partnership with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NYLC’s Project Ignition program empowers students across the nation to lead service-learning projects that change habits about safe driving behavior.

Led by students, Belton’s Project Ignition campaign is built to engage peers meaningfully, in ways that capture their interests and spark reflection.

“Our campaign will include a seatbelt click-it competition where teams of four students will rotate through driver and passenger seats to buckle-up as fast as possible. A stationary seatbelt selfie contest will be held and permanent ‘Belts on in Belton’ signs will be placed at all elementary school pick-up locations, as well,” said Mary Cummings, an educator at Belton. Reaching their peers has not always come easily, however, “experimenting with several tactics to make our efforts get through to peers has been challenging – they have been stubborn in the past.”


Engaging with the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice has contributed to breaking down those barriers. “Our project engages with Reflection because we are constantly analyzing and editing our service-learning practice, and it engages with Diversity by appealing to different learning styles. Alongside the other Standards, we will focus on changing unsafe driving habits rather than using scare tactics,” said Cummings.

For Belton, Youth Voice is the most important Standard of all, and has led to several successes. “For the past two years, our program has been placed in the Battle of the Belt competition, and this year we have recruited the largest number of members ever.” To maximize project impact and effectiveness, Belton maximizes the voice of its youth.

Learn more about Project Ignition. Follow NYLC on Facebook and Twitter to stay in the loop about PI and our other programs.

Service Reaching Further

From Callie Aguilar, Grants Manager.

A few days ago, I represented NYLC at WE Day amidst a crowd of 18,000 screaming youth leaders at the Xcel Energy Center. I have attended WE Day the past two years, gaining an appreciation for the scale of service taking place in this state. Data shared by the Minnesota Department of Education indicated that over 197,000 youth are engaged in service programs, up 204% from the 2013-2014 school year!

WE Day from Callie

Perhaps the most poignant message of the day came from the first woman of color in space — physician, scientist, engineer, explorer and futurist, Dr. Mae Jemison — who compared our human makeup to that of stars.

She shared: “When I look at the world today, I look at it like I did from space. As humans, our bodies contain metals – the same metals found in the composition of stars.

“Each one of us is the result of billions of years of creation. Our obligation is to figure out what we are going to contribute to the future.

“The reality is, we will not all get off this planet. Our life is here and our mission is to make sure we figure out how to share this planet by including everyone in our journey and trying to do the best for everyone.”

As I think about those words, I compare them to the recently-released service statistics. Minnesota can proudly claim that we have more stars shining brighter and reaching further now than ever before.

The Impact of Equity

To advance education equity is to make a meaningful entry into your community, to identify root causes of inequity, to engage and inspire peers, and to empower all youth to have a voice in their own education. The opportunity for all youth to thrive – regardless of access or means – and to be equipped with the same tools to build success as their peers across socioeconomic lines is vital. This is the mission of Youth4Education. With this charge, young leaders from around the nation are leveraging the power of service-learning to transform schools and communities. These #Youth4Ed Lead Activists are championing such efforts, driving impactful change as inspired servant-leaders.

NYLT Group Photo

Lead Activists are youth leaders who have partnered with NYLC to execute service-learning projects to advance education equity around the world.

Grace Jin, fueled by a pen-pal mentorship with a peer at a school in the inner-city, worked with her educators to incorporate activities that encourage others to recognize similarities instead of focusing on differences:

“As the bundle of letters from my pen-pal Keyon thickened, I came to a realization. Though Keyon and I may have different skin colors and live in different neighborhoods, we have so much more in common: our love for science, our skill of dancing the “Nae-Nae,” and our dream to travel the world. I finally met Keyon in April, when North Allegheny pen-pals visited Grandview. We planted a schoolyard garden, played kickball, and discussed career dreams. In May, the Grandview kids came to North Allegheny. Before their visit, I planned a Teaching Peace Initiative activity (involving lollipops and an alien invasion) and worked with teachers to incorporate it into the Grandview curriculum. After spending a day at North Allegheny, Keyon poked his head out a yellow school bus window and told me, ‘I can be anything I want to be.’ Waving goodbye to 30 smiling faces, I realized that this is where stereotypes stop and connections grow.”

Fuchi Hang is educating his peers about the importance of cultural competency as a root cause of inequity.

“I envision serving a larger community by addressing the disparity of representation in our education system. Teaching students of all backgrounds the multiple narratives of history will create a community of understanding and a true environment for learning. My project is a movement for the representation of diverse cultures in school.”

Maria Ngo and Giovanna Clemens will be leading workshops in their schools about privilege, and the inequity that it creates in a track-based school.

“We envision others finding meaning in our project so they can go out and educate [their peers] to spread the word about the importance of education equity.”


Lead Activists are three months into year-long service-learning project to advance education equity, but their passion and impact extends much further. To learn more about Youth4Education and to take the #Youth4Ed Pledge, visit Youth4Education.org. Track and use #Youth4Ed to stay plugged-in on social media.

Every Voice is Valuable

From Hannah Reece, AmeriCorps Promise Fellow at NYLC.

hannahAs a new face at NYLC and an exceptionally independent worker, I approached last week’s workshop review with slight uncertainty. The thought of sitting in a room of service-learning experts for eight hours to determine the lineup of workshops for the 2016 National Service-Learning Conference® felt daunting and potentially tedious.

It became apparent to me, however, within the first minutes of the day, that the team would function much differently than teams I had previously been a part of. One of the core beliefs behind service-learning is that every voice is valuable, and this notion was clearly put into practice in the way team members that day interacted with each other. Each person was given the space, time, and respect to voice their opinions, and my newness to the team had no effect on the value of my words.

The workshop review process rolled smoothly throughout the day, hours floated by, and the energy in the room never faded from its cheery buzz. In less than eight hours, twelve of us narrowed hundreds of workshop proposals into an intentional and exciting lineup for the Educate. Ignite. Transform. In line with service-learning values, every voice was heard and respected, and the final product was the result of true teamwork.

From youth leadership to social justice, from technology to pedagogy, from intergenerational partnerships to national park systems to photography, the lineup of #SLC16 workshops has me asking just one question: How do I choose which workshops to attend?

National Service-Learning Awards

Every year at the National Service-Learning Conference®, the National Service-Learning Awards are bestowed upon exemplary national leaders throughout the service, service-learning, educational, and youth-empowerment fields. Among passionate peers from around the world, these leaders are recognized for their innovative and impactful work.

These leaders need your help to receive their due recognition. Learn more about each of the National Service-Learning Awards to be awarded at Educate. Ignite. Transform., the 27th Annual National Service-Learning Conference, in the infographic below. Share the image with your networks. Nominate and apply today. Find the forms you need at nylc.org/awards. Deadline for each award is December 4.


NOTE: The Champion Admission rate for #SLC16 — that’s the lowest rate you will find to attend Educate. Ignite. Transform. — ends October 31. Register NOW and save money.

The Convergence of National Service and Service-Learning

The mission of NYLC is to create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world with young people, their schools, and their communities through service-learning. For more than thirty years, that has been our charge. This week, in Houston, Texas, Dr. James Kielsmeier and CEO Kelita Bak are realizing that tradition at a Celebration of National Service at the Points of Light Conference on Volunteering and Service.

Since Dr. Kielsmeier founded NYLC in 1983, we have been a strong proponent of national service and how it converges with the power of service-learning.


In 2005, Dr. Kielsmeier reflected on the redefinition of national service to include the central tenets of service-learning, “Once an exclusive program of full-time service for young adults, national service now has the inclusive purpose that citizens of every age – even our youngest – can and should serve community and country. Freeing national service to include service-learning has created a symbiotic relationship between two once separated movements – national service for young adults and experiential education with a service dimension (i.e., service-learning) reaching schools and colleges.” For two decades, these redefinition efforts were federally-funded through Learn and Serve America, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, until funding was eliminated in 2011.

But service-learning has soldiered on. At NYLC and countless more service-learning organizations, we know the power of service-learning. We’ve seen the results in our programs. We’ve measured the success in our research. District by district, from community to community, service-learning is transforming the way students learn, the way educators teach, and the way schools and communities value young people.

It is a movement, one at which NYLC has long been at the forefront.

A theme of the Celebration of National Service is engaging our past as prologue. What will be the future of national service and service-learning? Together, let’s find out.

Creating Meaning, Addressing Needs


Research suggests that meaningful service perhaps is the most important of the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice

It might be obvious that any valuable service-learning experience should be meaningful — yet it is far from self-evident what the term “meaningful” implies. But the substantial positive impact meaningful service can have on students’ academic, civic, and developmental outcomes (Neal, Leeper, and Root 2009) calls for an examination of the ingredients required to reach true meaning.

Though meaningful service implies service that is perceived as beneficial to its recipients and to the larger community, this article will focus on the importance of meaningfulness as defined by the service providers.


A number of factors have to be in place for a service-learning experience to be perceived as meaningful by students, i.e., the providers of the service. The first dimension relates to the way the experience allows for personal growth. Yates (1995) noted that opportunities to take on adult responsibilities and receive respect for doing work well “may lead [students] to think about who they are and who they can be.” Furco (2002) found that the students who were most strongly influenced by their service experiences were engaged in meaningful service activities that challenged them to some degree or ones in which they had responsibility and interest. The students’ sense of engagement was enhanced when they felt they were treated with respect by members of the community. To reach such outcomes, the service experience must be developmentally-appropriate — that is, it must deal with an issue that can be understood by learners, and they must be reasonably well able to perform the corresponding service activity.

A second dimension relates to how students perceive their relationship with recipients of the service they provide. Root and Billig (2008) affirmed that students found meaning in their service when they interacted with individuals faced with personal difficulties, confronting examples of injustice, or encountering inefficient policies. Direct contact “enabled [students] to connect to larger issues, both in the community and more generally in society.

Reconnecting Youth and Community

A third dimension relates to how the service experience changes the way students see themselves in the community or the wider society. While a number of studies have established that many young people feel disconnected from their community and might have an egocentric way of viewing the world, effective service activities engage students emotionally with their communities (Root and Billig 2008). Catalano and colleagues (2004) showed that participation in communities helped students develop stronger connections to the community norms and values, thereby contributing to community cohesion.

Local Action, Global Meaning

While a meaningful project can have a lasting impact on students as well as recipients, it has the potential to serve an even higher purpose if it is firmly placed in its appropriate wider context. Students should be encouraged to analyze how the need they are addressing is but one step toward a broader vision of tackling the problem on the local, national, and global levels.

Thus service-learning projects that adhere to the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice help develop civic awareness and democratic citizenship (Root and Billig 2008). Through learning and reflection, students are capable of comparing their life situations to those of the people they serve and they place any need or problem in local and global contexts. Once students start to consider the possibility of changing social problems, they realize the importance of the learning component. It takes service to meet needs, but knowledge and skills to end them.

Catalano, R. F., Haggerty, K. P., Oesterle, S., Fleming, C. B., and Hawkins, J.D. (2004). The importance of bonding to school for healthy development: Findings from the Social Development Research Group (pp. 252-261). Journal of School Health, 74(7).
Furco, A. (2002). Is service-learning really better than community service? A study of high school service program outcomes. In A. Furco & S. H. Billig (Eds.), Advances in service-learning research: Vol. 1. Service-learning: The essence of the pedagogy (pp. 23-50). Greenwich, CT: Information AGe.
Neal, M., Leeper, T., and Root, S. (2009). Attributes of quality service-learning in respondents’ past service experience: new findings from NYLC’s Transitioning to Adulthood Survey. In Growing to Greatness 2009 (in press), St. Paul, MN: NYLC.
Root, S., and Billig, S. H. (2008). Service-learning as a promising approach to high school civic engagement. In J. Bixby & J. Pace (Eds.), Educating democratic citizens in troubled times: Qualitative studies of current efforts (pp. 107-130). Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Yates, M. (1995). Community service and identity development in adolescence. Dissertation. Catholic University of America. Washington, DC.

YAC Member Champions Gender Equality

NYLC is proud to recognize Youth Advisory Council Member Soua Thao as she is presented with the Sharon L. Doherty Student Leadership Award from the Women’s Center at the University of Minnesota. Nominated by peers and mentors, Soua’s work to advance education equity and stimulate youth leadership has deep connections to women’s issues, forged by large underlying factors like sexism, racism, and inequalities in socioeconomic status. Soua was honored with the award at the annual Celebrating University Women Awards Program, hosted by the Women’s Center late last month.

Shrimp Doherty Award

The Sharon L. Doherty Student Leadership Award recognizes a servant-leader from the University of Minnesota who demonstrates outstanding volunteer service and advocacy for women’s issues on campus or in the broader community. The Doherty Award was established in 1993 and honors the work of former doctoral student and University of Minnesota alumna, Sharon Doherty, whose exhaustive efforts led to the successful Commission on Women’s Students Initiative and continued University commitment to programming for women students. Soua’s work in the community has also created a sense of belonging to it, “All summer I had struggled with finding a place to call home. Now, after receiving support from my professors, friends, mentors, and family, I am happy to be a student at the University of Minnesota.”

As part of the Doherty Award, Soua will receive a $1000 grant to be used for attendance to a national leadership conference focused on the empowerment of women. “I am honored by this award and am so thankful to have an opportunity to attend a conference and to learn what others are doing about women’s issues and what I can do, too.”