Service learning activities for Dreamer Scholars of all ages have become an important building block of programming for IHDF Programs. Service learning, when planned well, can benefit everyone involved: the Dreamer Scholars, the service recipients, volunteers, IHDF, and the community. This section explains the role service plays in IHDF programming and provides examples of successful service learning projects from local IHDF Programs.
The Benefits of Service Learning
There are several great reasons for IHDF Programs to offer service learning projects.
Service Benefits the Dreamer Scholars.
By doing service learning projects, Dreamer Scholars build self-esteem and a sense of personal responsibility. Public schools, the criminal justice system, and social services programs often treat children from low income backgrounds as problems waiting to happen. When Dreamer Scholars participate in service learning projects, they begin to see themselves as resources, as people who can be part of meeting the needs of their neighborhoods, schools, and families.
Service learning activities also build cooperation and leadership skills. A good service activity will require Dreamer Scholars to participate in planning and managing the activity and to work in teams while carrying it out. Service learning projects often require completing complex tasks. For example, while painting the walls at a community day care center may seem easy, the logistics involved in creating a budget, obtaining the right paint and equipment, planning the teams, dividing up the work, and managing the cleanup provide valuable learning experiences for Dreamer Scholars. Structure activities to maximize the level of Dreamer Scholar involvement based on the Dreamer Scholars’ age, prior experience with service learning, and familiarity with the skills required for a particular service project.
Organized service learning also provides great opportunities to educate Dreamer Scholars about social and political issues. Service learning projects often happen outside of school in new and challenging environments, and service often exposes Dreamer Scholars to difficult issues-hunger, racism, homelessness, or illness. In new environments and emotionally charged situations, Dreamer Scholars can absorb new information about the world, its problems, and potential solutions.
Service is also a valuable chance to expose Dreamer Scholars to their own prejudices so that they can work through them. For example, many children have a fear of the elderly or a dislike for the mentally ill or homeless. They often make fun of them or are unsympathetic to their problems. A well-planned day spent visiting and working with elderly, homeless, or mentally ill persons greatly improves Dreamer Scholars’ understanding of their situation. This can also lead to a powerful discussion of the prejudices and stereotypes that are often directed against Dreamer Scholars. An effective service learning project includes time set aside for reflection and discussion after the event.
Finally, a well-executed service learning project can teach Dreamer Scholars new job skills and expose them to potential careers. For example, a day spent working with Habitat for Humanity is both a day spent building new housing for families from under-resourced communities and a day spent learning valuable construction skills. When Dreamer Scholars visit elderly residents of a nursing home, also have them talk with the nurses and the social director. They can ask questions like: What education does the job require? What are the pay and benefits? What are the personal rewards? Service learning projects can lead to internships and later to job placements for Dreamer Scholars who are interested in a group or agency where they serve as volunteers.
Service Benefits IHDF.
By coordinating service projects, IHDF Programs develop new community relationships, and promote a positive public image for IHDF, attract favorable press coverage, and access new resources and fund-raising potential through the relationships that service fosters.
Service Benefits the Communities in Which We Work.
While this may seem obvious, it should not be taken for granted. Service learning projects can benefit the community generally-highway beautification or a park cleanup, for example; or service learning projects can benefit a specific segment of the community such as the elderly at a senior citizens’ home that the Dreamer Scholar Scholars visit. A high-quality service learning project identifies a need in the community and targets the project to meet the need. Don’t assume a need exists without investigating first. Talk to the potential service recipients to be sure the service addresses an important need.
The community also benefits from service because it brings together different groups of people in a positive activity. Service is an opportunity to bridge gaps not otherwise crossed and to increase understanding and acceptance among those who participate.
Planning a Service Learning Project
The Service Learning Model
Service learning is an approach to engaging in community service that makes service more effective, meaningful, and sustainable by incorporating learning opportunities that allow participants to draw connections between their service and its broader context in the community being served. This approach requires more preparation than a traditional community service project, but the additional benefits make it worthwhile. Service learning takes community service a step further by building on three critical elements: