There's something special about service projects. I find myself looking for ways to serve. I also am usually looking for ways for my students to serve. Sometimes service projects get a bad reputation because of the mindest that they are just "making people feel better about themselves." I think this can be true at times. However, it shouldn't be an excuse not to serve. Kindness doesn't have to have a hidden agenda. At my previous job, I oversaw a program that focused on drug and alcohol prevention among youth. In this role, the students and school educators I worked with were often thinking of ways to educate their community/peers. They also were sometimes looking for ways to serve their school/community.
Below you will find a list of ideas you could implement in your school. I hope this holiday season inspires us all to be grateful for what we do have. It's easy to focus on what we don't have, but a grateful heart can go a long way. Some of these projects would pair well with a student council group, but I think it can be beneficial to serve as a classroom too.
1. Writing letters to various groups of people.
An example would be letters for children at a local hospital. Not only would it probably be well received by the child, but it also allows students to practice letter writing. Obviously please filter these letters and provide some structure to the content.
2. Creating a kindness committee.
Simple things like encouraging notes on lockers, notes to teachers, positive messaging in bathrooms, take what you need boards, etc. around a school building can greatly impact the school environment.
The kindness committee could also focus on ways to do kind things outside of the school walls. I believe kindness can be something that needs to be taught. Sometimes students are not raised to show kindness to complete strangers.
3. Setting up environmental challenges.
This one might not seem like the typical way to "serve" your community, but the longterm benefits would be worth it. For example, is there excess paper being thrown away that could be recycled in classrooms? Are there bins in various places throughout the school for cans/bottles to be recycled.
Contacting a local recycling program, or cleaning up the streets, would be a great way to serve the community.
4. Assisting elderly neighbors with household work.
When I was in middle school, we had a program called GAP (school name was the letter G, A stood for active, and P was for pirates--our school mascot). This program encouraged us to get community service hours to have an end of the year celebration (movie/pizza day). The majority of the students participated to receive that movie day. Again, I don't know that the act of service should be rewarded, but it did motivate students. I'm not sure I believe that incentivizing service is always a great idea.
One of the tasks I remember doing was raking leaves for elderly people near the school. I am sure there is someone who lives nearby, who is a safe person to visit, who could use some assistance around their home. Other examples might be, planting flowers or shoveling snow.
5. Visiting local nursing homes.
Another program my elementary school had was a buddy program with an elderly person at the nursing home. This program allowed us to make visits to this person maybe once a quarter. We would share a meal, maybe play a game, and just socialize with them.
I have very fond memories of visiting the elderly lady I had as a buddy. It provided companionship for both parties. I am sure the local nursing homes in your area would love to see youth come to visit.
6. Singing at nursing homes. If you have a school choir or just a group of students who likes to sing, it's always fun to go sign to the elderly. Most nursing homes love entertainment from their youth. When I took piano lessons growing up, we would often perform at the nursing homes.
7. Collecting items for a local shelter. Our community has several shelters that are often in need of items, including a homeless shelter and a domestic violence shelter. Previously, I have contacted those places to see what items they could use. For example, the one time I called they need some winter items such as gloves, hats, scarves, earmuffs, etc. Never assume a shelter will use whatever you donate; it's always best to call beforehand.
8. Volunteering time at shelters.
Some of my most memorable moments in life have been when I am serving. I think it is important for students to spend time volunteering in some type of shelter. It saddens me to say but this year we have had a few students who were homeless. I mean this all in the most sincere way, but being with them helps me keep life in perspective. It makes me ask questions like, how am I wasting my money? What could I be doing to help others? What resources am I not utilizing to serve those less fortunate? For students who come from more "stable" backgrounds, it is important to see the world around them and experience various environments. Not simply because it makes them more grateful, but because it enlightens us to the problems around us and often evokes a desire for change.
Volunteering at a local shelter or soup kitchen can be an excellent way for students to spend their time.
Those are just a few ideas for how students can serve. I'd love to hear any ideas you have in the comments below. In what ways is your school teaching students to serve?