An important activity for 4-H members is taking part in community service projects. These projects give youth valuable opportunities to develop positive relationships in their community as well as enhance personal growth and satisfaction. 4-H Clubs are expected to complete a group community service project on an annual basis, and 4-H Clubs are often known for their work in the community.
Service-learning combines meaningful community service with learning and reflection to enrich the experience. Here’s an example: If youth remove trash from the roadside, they are providing a service to the community. That’s community service. For service learning, additional learning and reflection opportunities are incorporated. Ideas might include:
- Before a roadside trash pick-up, youth learn about safety (wearing vests and gloves) from a guest speaker or by watching a safety video.
- During the trash pick-up, youth reflect and analyze what they found.
- After the project, youth reflect on the experience, share the results with other community groups, and offer suggestions on how to reduce litter in the future.
Elevating your community service project to a service-learning project will increase the learning potential for youth and make it an experience they won’t forget! Through service-learning projects, youth build positive relationships, develop leadership skills, and learn decision-making, problem-solving, teamwork, and empathy for others. Service-learning also promotes a lifelong commitment to public service and learning. Your current community service projects may already have some of the important elements of service-learning, including giving youth a voice in planning, filling a community need, learning from the project, reflecting on the experience, and celebrating the impact of the project.
Give youth a voice in planning.
Are youth involved in the planning of the project? Is the project being led by youth? Do they have a personal interest in the project? Engaging youth in the process will provide more ownership and greater learning opportunities. Youth input, leadership, and decision-making will aid in the success of a service-learning experience.
Fill a community need.
Does the project address a real need in the community and is positive, meaningful and real? Need ideas? Have youth write down activities/community events/hobbies that are of interest to them. Figure out a service-learning project for each. (Do they like to ride bikes? Have a bicycle repair day for less fortunate youth in the community). For older youth, research online for issues in the community or discuss needs for their school.
Youth learn from the project.
Planning for what is to be learned through the experience is an important component and should be clearly identified. What are the learning objectives? Will participants need additional training or an orientation for this project? (For example, if youth will serve food for the homeless, what food safety measures do they need to be aware of?) Listen for teachable moments throughout the service-learning project. You’ll be surprised at the number of unplanned lessons learned!
Reflect on the experience.
Reflection should occur before, during and after the experience and is the key to service-learning. Incorporate fun reflection activities to promote lively discussions. Ideas: pass a beach ball to each other, when you catch it, you share something about the experience. Create posters about the experience or make a digital photo story to share with parents or community groups.
Reflection gives youth time to consider what they learned, share their ideas and feelings with others, and how they can use the experience in other areas of their lives. Use the following format to assist in the reflection process:
- What? (Do) Discuss the experience. What did you do? Tell me about your favorite part of the project. How did the experience make you feel? What were some of the unexpected things that happened?
- So what? (Reflect) Interpret the experience. What did the service project mean to you? Why was it important? What was the most challenging part of the experience? What did you learn from this project that you didn’t know before?
- Now What? (Apply) Explore the possibilities for change. What will I do with what I have learned? How can I use the skills to meet other community needs? What should our next project be?
Celebrate a job well done!
Youth should always be recognized and celebrated for providing service to the community. A celebration can bring closure to the experience and help youth look forward to their next project.
Plan for Successful Projects
Encourage members to get involved in all phases of the project including planning, conducting, and evaluating the project. Don't do it all for them.
- Investigate what is needed in the community.
- Determine what types of activities members have interests in and abilities to do.
- List all the activities that have been identified.
- Discuss the possibilities and rank them in order of importance and interest.
- Select a project!
- Develop a plan of action.
- Carry out the project as planned.
- Document the project, members' efforts, and outcomes. Take photos and videos. Have members journal or record their experiences and stories. Make notes of dates, times, and quantities.
- Monitor the activities and make adjustments as needed. Take time to discuss the successes and shortcomings of the project and ideas for improvement.
- Write a summary of the experience after completion. Share it with the media and the county 4-H staff. Put together a scrapbook record of the activity.
- Celebrate! Feel good about the contributions to the community and positive learning gained by the 4-H members.
Ideas for Projects
There are many community service projects waiting to be done. The key to a successful project is matching the project to the ages and skills of the youth and the resources available to use in completing the project. This list provides some ideas for possible community service projects.
- Meet with an animal shelter and collect supplies and resources they need
- Collect supplies to help livestock in disaster situations
- Organize a visiting pet program for nursing homes, elementary schools, senior centers, etc.
- Create training toys to be used by dogs in law enforcement
- Volunteer at a local humane society
Communication & Expressive Arts
- Partner with Extension office to promote 4-H/Extension
- Create public service announcements to curb issue behaviors in your community
- Craft thank-you message for the unsung heroes of your community
Consumer & Family Science
- Partner with local first responders to collect and provide stuffed animals or quilts for children in crisis
- Host a coat or backpack drive for a local clothing closet
- Sew simple garments for children struck by disaster
- Complete a Quilts of Valor for a local veteran
- Make a quilt or blanket for a homeless shelter
- Sponsor a mitten and scarf tree with items to be donated to a pre-school
Environmental Education & Earth Science
- Develop and maintain a trail
- Work with a local organization to create educational markers for native plants
- Pick up trash and debris from natural areas, such as parks, lakes, etc.
- Present a program or display on firearm and bow safety
- Volunteer to help with local hunter safety program
- Provide baked goods for the local senior center
- Prepare healthy snacks for a local blood drive
- Partner with other community organizations to host a monthly birthday party at a homeless shelter or create birthday kits and donate to a local food pantry
- Host a community walk, run, or bike event to promote fitness
- Sponsor a community holiday coffee
- Prepare holiday food baskets for homebound community members
- Sponsor a food drive for a food pantry
Leadership, Civic Engagement & Personal Development
- Establish quality welcome signs at your city or town limits
- Help clean up and refurbish your community center or meeting place
- Learn about the Wounded Warrior Project and support it through a notable community event or by creating a campaign
- Plan a thank-you party for community helpers, such as police, fire departments, ambulance, city workers, park departments, etc.
- Adopt a grandparent
- Work with a local senior center to coordinate activities such as games, dances, etc.
- Set up a community garden and donate produce to those in need
- Help residents at nursing homes plant container gardens
- Plant trees and flowers in community areas
- Catalog plants or trees in park or wildlife area
Science, Engineering & Technology
- Host a technology help day to teach others about technology
- Take part in a citizen science activity by collection data for a scientific effort
- Contact local agencies to find opportunities to help with water testing
- Help maintain and improve fairgrounds/4-H facilities
- Organize a recycling program
- Plan a park clean-up day or community clean-up
- Present a disaster preparedness program for schools and daycares in what to do in case of a tornado or flood