June 16, 2006

Still Amazed by What Kids Can Do

Yesterday, my cousin graduated from the fifth grade. The sun was scorching. The kids were squirmy. The all-school orchestra was squeeky, but melodious in its own way (smile). My family and I were oblivious. We savored every moment of the pint-sized graduation ceremony with great pride and anticipation.

The principal and teachers celebrated the students' academic achievement as well as their accomplishments in the arts, athletics, and even service. To my surprise, even the 12-year old commencement speaker used her bully pulpit to sing the praises of the opportunities she had to learn and serve as part of her elementary school experience.

I've worked in youth service and service-learning for 13 years (well--actually 12 years and 10 months). Before then, I organized and participated in more service activities than you can shake a stick at as part of my own K-12 and college education. Nevertheless, I am still deeply moved, surprised, and amazed by the things young people do when given the chance to serve.

Too many people overlook or under-estimate what our nation's youngest citizens can do. This week, The Star-Ledger published an article about what sudents in Newark, New Jersey are doing to revitalize and reclaim their own schools and neighborhoods. In a city where news headlines are dominated by stories of increasing rates of youth violence and tragic losses, this article boasted about the increasing rate of volunteer hours kids provided their community, valued at more than $1.2 million.

Newark's Mayor-Elect Cory Booker recognized and expressed his appreciation for the students' initiative to make a difference. He urged the young people to continue rolling up their sleeves to play an active role in taking back their city.

The Star-Ledger reports the students' efforts were sponsored by "The League Powered by Learning to Give," a school-based community service and service-learning initiative. Several schools and districts across the country conduct similar activities using Learning to Give curriculum and materials.

Read the complete article.
You can also learn more about Learning to Give here: http://www.learningtogive.org/about/

What Kids Can Do, a national nonprofit founded to bring attention to youth voice and youth service, features the contributions of young people who are using storytelling to help inspire and reconnect those affected by Hurricane Katrina: http://www.whatkidscando.org/studentwork/neighborhoods.html

Do you know youth with "can do" spirits? Connect them to the wealth of tools, information and even financial resources available to help young people engage in service and service-learning. Do Something is a national nonprofit with state and local chapters that challenges young people to change the world through citizen action. Do Something offers youth-friendly tipsheets and an online forum to help young people looking for ideas or effective strategies: http://www.dosomething.org/challenges/citizenaction/

Youth Service America offers several mini-grant opportunities to help youth plan and implement service and service-learning activities throughout the year. Currently, Youth Service America is partnering with the Civil Society Institute to provide the Red, White & Green Climate Change Grant. This opportunity offers youth ages 15-25 $500 to implement a service-learning project about climate change. For more information, visit: http://www.ysa.org/awards/award_grant.cfm

By the way, my little cousin was awarded a special prize for outstanding citizenship. Her principal fought back tears as she spoke of the service my cousin provided to her fellow students, school and surrounding community. She's only 11. I can't wait to see what she will do next. I'm sure it will be amazing.

Nelda Brown, National Service-Learning Partnership

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