The Building Block of Community

By Amy Meuers, Interim CEO, NYLC

The United States is built on the concept of an engaged citizenry. Our government, schools, and communities operate because people are willing to volunteer their time and talents. Consider local youth sports programs run through a community center: coaches and board members are almost exclusively volunteers. School fundraisers, parties, field trips, mentoring programs — all run by volunteers. The same with summer parades and festivals. Many of the most essential functions of our society operate because people are willing to volunteer. Nonprofits require volunteers to deliver human services and respond to crises. Without these engaged citizens society’s infrastructure will deteriorate and fail. Engaged citizenry must be taught — in homes and in school.

Service-learning is a proven strategy to engage students in their education (Davila and Mora 2007) when they understand that their service is authentic, has substance over time, and can be understood in the context of academic or civic content. The evidence shows the impact service-learning has on classroom instruction, but what may be even more important is that it teaches students to care, to engage as active citizens, and to show compassion and empathy to people in the community and around the globe (Berkas, 1997) (Weiler, et al., op. cit).

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The function of an education is to teach one to think intensely and to think critically. Intelligence plus character. That is the goal of a real education.” If society’s problems are ever to be solved, we must start understanding and respecting our differences and work together as one to make our nation and the world a better place for us, for our children and for generations to come. Service-learning gets to character outcomes for students. It supports them in solving real community needs today and teaches them to become life-long citizens (Benson, Blyth, Lochner, Furco, Kielsmeier, & Root, 2009).

Funding for K-12 service-learning as part of the Edward M. Kennedy Act is critical to teaching students to become engaged citizens. It would provide schools with the necessary resources to implement service-learning in classrooms — making learning relevant and meaningful to students across the Country. It would ensure young people have the opportunity to learn how to become engaged citizens who know they can make a positive contribution to the world.

Please join NYLC in supporting service-learning as a key strategy for creating the next generation of community leaders.

References
Thomas Berkas, Strategic Review of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Service-Learning Projects, 1990-1996 (Battle Creek, Mich.: W.K. Kellog Foundation, February 1997).
Weiler et al., op. cit.
Benson, P., Blyth, D., Lochner, A., Furco, A., Kielsmeier, J. C., & Root, S. (2009). Measuring Youth Contribution Indicators. Growing to Greatness, 6-12.