By Bella Sullivan, NYLC Intern

I’m the daughter of a service-learning practitioner, so I’ve had my fair share of volunteer experiences. For many years, I mindlessly engaged, treating each experience as just another one of my mom’s many projects. This all changed during my junior year of high school, and coincidentally, my first service-learning experience without the guidance of my mother.

As part of a youth council for my local United Way chapter, I, along with a dozen other students in my school system, set out to create meaningful change within our community. 

Since United Way is focused on education, income, and health, we researched different non-profit organizations in our community that align with those three ideas. When researching health, we learned about food insecurity and interviewed local food shelters. Quickly, we found that although our city is a food desert, most of the food insecurity in town does not come from a lack of access, but rather from a lack of knowledge about what to do with the food being distributed.

Inspired by this new discovery, we decided to create a cookbook filled with recipes that are made from commonly donated ingredients. We even went so far as to hold a community taste testing, inviting community leaders to try our creations! By partnering with the community, we were able to receive input and guidance from the adults around us, which helped our service-learning experience go smoothly.

Once the cookbook was created, we decided to partner with a local food shelter and distribute it along with food boxes. To demonstrate what we learned from our project to the rest of our community, we created a YouTube video detailing the entire process. 

Now, four years later, I still think about this experience on a regular basis. Not only did it perfectly align with the student service-learning process of IPARD, but it gave me a real chance to engage in experiential learning, which is important. Not only does experiential learning give students the opportunity to be actively engaged in their learning processes, but this active form of learning also helps with the retention of what is being taught.  My peers and I used what we learned to create tangible products that created meaningful change, in a place we love. 

This experience also inspired me to pursue professional work and development within the field of service-learning. I have been able to witness firsthand how service-learning empowers students and creates passionate leaders. My hope is that students will continue to serve others in meaningful ways, creating a long-lasting cycle of service-learning. Since high school, I’ve worked closely with NYLC, training others to provide their students with experiences as genuine as mine!

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