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The Time is Now to Invest in Service-Learning

Posted By Amy Meuers, Thursday, June 25, 2020

Prior to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, we were seeing years of stressed educational systems, communities divided, and many young people disengaged. As the current situation shows in what some are calling the “tale of two pandemics,” existing societal injustices are being further amplified, individuals isolated, and students’ educational outcomes are at risk. And at a time when they face risks to mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing as well.

At the same time, we know many stories of success, with young people leading the way in creating positive change in their schools and communities. Bringing the power of youth-led service tied to academic and civic outcomes is once again coming to the forefront as a solution to the challenges we face in our country and around the world. In these times, NYLC’s mission to create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world, with young people, their schools, and communities through service-learning takes on a new and even more vital importance. We remain steady in our belief in the power of young people to lead us to solutions.

We are not alone; the momentum is growing with a realization of the impact of youth-led service as an effective vehicle for learning and citizenship. In addition to a host of proven academic, social, and career outcomes:

  • “A Republic (Still) at Risk- and Civics is Part of the Solution” published in 2017 acknowledges service-learning as one of six proven practices for restoring faith and participation in our democracy. (The list further includes student voice in schools, and student-led voluntary associations).
  • In 2019, a group of foundations convened a project study our nation’s capacity to create citizens who are well-informed, productively engaged in working for the common good, and, hopeful about our democracy. “[W]e need to fundamentally rethink and enrich the ways we prepare young people to be successful citizens in a democracy… to imagine a lifetime of civic learning and practice.” Service-learning fits squarely within the civic learning eco-system, supporting the shift of focus from merely direct Civics education in one high school class to civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions beyond classrooms in K-12 schools, and beyond schools to community organizations and post-secondary institutions.
  • In “Inspired to Serve” issued last month (May 2020), the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service—a bi-partisan commission completing two and a half years of extensive research—concluded with a compelling call to revitalize civic education and expand service-learning over the next 10 years. They recognize these as key factors to ensure young people are fully prepared to participate in civic life and understand the importance of service.

In the last decade, beginning with the 2009 elimination of Learn and Service America, closely followed by a shift in focus of major national funders, we have seen an exponential drop in financial support for organizations and schools at all levels- national, regional, state, and local to do service-learning. While interest and demand for high-quality service-learning resources remained high, the ability to implement decreased significantly. Many organizations and initiatives ultimately had to close their doors.


With a new focus on civic learning and youth voice, now is the time to reinvest in service-learning. We know from experience that service-learning is a proven strategy to engage students in their education when they understand that their service is authentic, has substance over time, and can be understood in the context of academic or civic content. It is time for service-learning to expand in classrooms and communities across the nation.

Tags:  civic education  service-learning  youth voice 

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Best Practices for Online Service-Learning

Posted By Amy Meuers, Thursday, June 25, 2020

In just two short months, schools will be back in session. The continued worries from the coronavirus pandemic have administrators across the world scrambling to figure out what learning will look like for students. What we do know is that whether students are in classrooms, online, or a hybrid of both, service-learning can enhance student engagement, increase academic knowledge and skills, and inspire students to engage as active citizens in their communities.


Service-learning allows for meaningful learning opportunities for youth through contribution to community. It empowers young people to address issues they see in their school, in their community, or around the world. It provides them an opportunity to feel empowered, to share their voice, and to engage in the civic process. When students have service-learning experiences, they build a commitment to life-long service.


To ensure service-learning experiences continue in these uncertain times, we have put together best practices for online service-learning. We want the process of service-learning to be done with quality so that it continues to meet the needs of students and educators alike.


Online Service-Learning Best Practices:

  • Set norms for how you will work together. Be clear expectations, communication, and behaviors.
  • Cultivate belonging. We know relationships matter so pay close attention to strategies that build relationships like one-on-one interactions, small group discussions, and discussion boards.
  • Focus on the process of service-learning, not the platform. The pedagogy of service-learning engages students in the learning process, gives them a voice, and builds their connection to each other and the community.
  • Identify what learning outcomes you want for your students (academic, civic, social-emotional, etc.)
  • Determine how you will know they have met learning outcomes. (What criteria will you use? What evidence will you collect? How will you assess learning at the end of the experience?)
  • Then, facilitate students through the IPARD process:
    • Investigation: students need to understand root causes of the issue they want to address. Understanding why the problem exists is an essential part of the problem-solving process. Much of investigation can be done remotely. Students can read articles, interview experts via phone, send out community surveys, or scour the internet for information (learning to distinguish between fact and opinion).
    • Planning & Preparation: planning is fundamental to ensuring students are ready serve as a cohesive team. Technology is made for collaboration and teamwork. Students create timelines, task lists, budgets and more.
    • Action: the service part of service-learning does not have to be direct (in-person). In-direct service activities like raising funds or supplies are great ways to do service. Partnering with a local nonprofit that has safety protocols in place for receiving donations ensures student safety. Advocating or educating others about your issue is another way to safely serve remotely.
    • Reflection: learning does not come from the act of service but in thinking about the experience itself.  Whether personal, small group, or the entire class, reflection reinforces student learning outcomes. Reflection can be written, visual, auditory, or more.
    • Demonstration: sharing students' experiences is an important culmination of the service-learning process. Technology allows students to be creative in telling their story and allows them to share broadly. Whether students create storyboards or podcasts, write a blog or newspaper article, or develop a play or music performance. Demonstration provides evidence of student learning and effect on the community issue.
  • Together, the students and teacher then assess the success of their experience. Did students meet the learning outcomes? Did they meet the community need? What worked? What would you have done differently?
  • Lastly, try different technology engagement strategies.  Start with a few that you know and then don’t be afraid to experiment.  Ask your students if they have any platforms that they prefer.  Maybe even have one of the young people lead the experience.  Check out our growing list of technology tools that support online service-learning.


When teachers lead students through the process of service-learning whether online, in person, or a hybrid of both, students will gain the knowledge and skills to become civically informed and engaged citizens who have the know-how to make the world a better place.


Tags:  civic engagement  online learning  service-learning 

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A Statement Regarding the Tragic Events in Minneapolis

Posted By Amy Meuers, Wednesday, May 27, 2020
For more than 35 years, the National Youth Leadership Council has advocated for youth voice and leadership for all young people from our home state of Minnesota. We advocate for young people to lead change where they see injustice. Therefore, we cannot stand by and not share our outrage at the tragic, gratuitous death of George Floyd this past week in Minneapolis. The system designed to keep people safe and secure is clearly broken when yet another person of color is murdered on our streets. In his memory, and the memory of so many other African-Americans whose lives have tragically been lost, we will continue to develop and support young people in not only challenging but changing the broken systems that cause harm to us all. We will strengthen our own resolve to continue to develop young people as leaders of today who value and recognize that our differences make us stronger, who respect and appreciate that there are tensions among interests, and who understand that from those tensions that we gain stronger perspectives on issues and can approach them with vulnerability and humility. And, that by embracing our differences we can find a common purpose – to make the world a better place for us all. In Service, Amy Meuers and the NYLC team

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Now is the Time to Invest in Service-Learning

Posted By Administration, Monday, May 4, 2020

In its final 255-page report to Congress last month entitled Inspired to Serve, the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service issued a compelling call to expand civic education and service-learning over the next 10 years to ensure young people have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to participate in civic life and understand the importance of service.


The National Youth Leadership Council is pleased to have been a contributor to the National Commission's report process, providing both written and in-person testimony, coordinating focus groups and presentation opportunities, as well as providing the National Commission opportunities to hear directly from youth and the service-learning community over the past year.


The final report includes two major recommendations that will elevate civics to the same level as math and reading in the Nation’s Report Card.


1.     Establish a Civic Education Fund at the Department of Education to provide up to $200 million of grants for teacher development and the development of civic education, applied civics, and service-learning programs; eligible entities would include State and local educational agencies, institutions of higher education, community-based organizations, and nonprofit organizations.


2.     Establish a Service-Learning Fund within the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to issue $250 million in grants annually, with 20% for K-college service-learning programs; 40% for grades 6-12 Summer of Service programs; and 40% for grades 9-12 Semester of Service programs.


The National Youth Leadership Council supports the Commission’s recommendation to Congress in the form of the Inspire to Serve Act of 2020 and the challenge to our Nation to cultivate a culture of service so that:


“By 2031—the 70th anniversary of President Kennedy’s call for Americans to serve their Nation—the Commission envisions that 5 million Americans will begin participating in military, national, or public service each year.”


To achieve this vision, it will be necessary for K-12 administrators, educators, and students to take an active role in advancing service-learning through actions,  such as:


  •  Encouraging federal investment in civic education and service-learning by contacting members of Congress in support of the Inspire to Service Act 2020.
  •  Increasing access to high-quality service-learning experiences to foster a culture of service in which Americans can identify how their own strengths, skills, and interests can contribute to the public good by addressing needs in their communities.
  •  Supporting service-learning best practices including the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice.
  •  Incorporating service-learning within school curricula to prepare students as civically informed and engaged citizens.
  •  Investing in service-learning professional development to gain and improve the knowledge and skills of educators to ensure quality practice and implementation.


"The support of K-12 administrators, educators, and students is going to be key to the success of expanding quality service-learning so that ‘service becomes a passage to adulthood’ as called for by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service,” said Amy Meuers, CEO of the National Youth Leadership Council. “By expanding quality service-learning practice to students across K-12 systems, we ensure students understand the rights and obligations of being a citizen of our Nation. We know from experience that service-learning is a proven strategy to engage students in their education when they understand that their service is authentic, has substance over time, and can be understood in the context of academic or civic content. It is time for service-learning to expand in classrooms across the Nation to fulfill the timely recommendations in this report.”


For more than 35 years, the National Youth Leadership Council has supported the advancement service-learning in K-12 education by empowering teachers, transforming classrooms, and engaging students by providing high-quality service-learning content, customized professional development, resources, and programs including the National Service-Learning Conference and Service-Learning Network. To learn more about service-learning and NYLC, visit


Tags:  civic education  inspire2servce  service-learning 

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Tennessee Expands Service-Learning in Afterschool

Posted By Julie Rogers Bascom, Thursday, April 9, 2020

NYLC supports 14 states in the Statewide Afterschool Network with technical support, coaching, grants, trainings, and resources to  develop or expand service-learning in afterschool programs in their state. These selected networks work collaboratively with each other and NYLC so that service-learning becomes a sustainable and systematic part of afterschool learning.


During the cohort’s monthly call in February, Mary Graham, Lead for Tennessee’s Afterschool Network (TAN), shared insight into how she supports, grows and uses service-learning as a strategy to bring benefits to Tennessee’s youth and youth workers.  Wearing multiple hats, Graham says she was “interested in service-learning and how it builds character, leadership and academics. I view service-learning as a way to address other issues like obesity and the opioid crisis. I looked strategically as a way to combine efforts for more impact.”


Here are a few words of advice from a seasoned service-learning leader:

  • Get the right people at the table.  Look at who you have partnerships with and invite them to help you strengthen the efforts.  Maybe it’s a steering committee, training partners or funding support - there are lots of resources out in the field to share and your team can help you access curricula, trainers, and data.  Graham reminds us, “This also helps to align with existing efforts - align service-learning with other initiatives for strong impact.”
  • Start early.  Gather your team, strategize and plan for training and deep understanding which allows youth workers time to understand and organize.  “We started training programs in March for a summer program and that wasn’t enough time.”
  • Consider diverse pilots.  What will work at one site won’t always work at another.  Find where the interest is and support them to be successful
  • Require an agreement of MOU with pilots.  If a program is receiving free training, technical assistance and funding, regardless of how small,  they need to commit to producing an outcome. This establishes a commitment to results and ability to track performance.
  • Pilot sites needed ongoing technical assistance.  Because there is so much staff turnover in out-of-school programs, ongoing training and support helps to ensure that workers have what they need to use service-learning with their youth.
  • Educate. Educate. Educate.  There is a difference between community service and service-learning. “You need to make sure leaders and partners and workers know what service-learning is, why to use it and what kind of outcomes it can bring.  Tennessee has 8 hubs across the state and all of these hubs are required to know what service-learning is and how to use it.”  


The benefits to service-learning are vast and varied but when service-learning is woven into a program’s fabric, youth enhance their academic, 21st Century, leadership, and social emotional skills because they are physically out in the community, making real change happen. It demonstrates that afterschool programs are developing the next generation of engaged and informed citizens who are ready to address community needs.


Thank you Mary, for being a leader in the out-of-school service-learning world. Learn more about our work with the Statewide Afterschool Network

Tags:  afterschool  out-of-school  service-learning 

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New Report Supports K-12 Service-Learning

Posted By Amy Meuers, Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service have made their final recommendation to Congress to advance military and non-military national service in the United States in the report Inspired to Serve. The report outlines a challenge to the Nation that by 2031, the 70th anniversary of President Kennedy’s call for Americans to serve their Nation—“Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country, ”— that 5 million Americans will begin participating in military, national, or public service each year. 


To that end, NYLC fully endorses the recommendations of the Commission to advance K-12 service-learning and civic education through the creation of a civic education fund and a service-learning fund. We call on Congress to invest in our Nation’s youth so that they become civically informed and engaged citizens by participating in service-learning and civic education during their formative years. 


To achieve this goal, the United States must make a concerted effort to prioritize robust civic education and academically relevant, high-quality service-learning at all levels of education including kindergarten to 12th grade.  The Commission’s report calls on Congress and the President to bolster the Federal investment in civic education and service-learning by appropriating $450 million each year to civic education and service-learning funds. 


In addition, the Federal Government will recognize both as national priorities and will lay the foundation to ensure that students at all levels have access to high-quality civic education and service-learning opportunities. The realization of this vision will mean that every individual will be exposed to service opportunities throughout their lifetime, beginning with young people experiencing robust civic education and service-learning during elementary, middle, and high school.


The National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC) has been at the forefront of the K-12 service-learning movement for more than 36 years. We know that the future of our democracy depends on our collective ability to create informed and engaged citizens by ensuring an excellent education foundation that includes robust civic education and service-learning. In a democratic society, the educational opportunities we provide students must not only help them learn core subject matter but must prepare them to be civically informed and engaged citizens. The benefits to service-learning are proven to provide young people with the knowledge, skills, and character to embrace the democratic practices needed to support the health and security of our democracy. 


Additional information about the report will be shared at the 31st Annual National Service-Learning Conference Virtual Experience on April 17th at 4:00 p.m. CST.  Commissioner Thomas Kilgannon will present findings from the report and answer questions from conference participants. Questions may be submitted ahead of time to


Tags:  civic education  national service  service-learning 

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Equity in Education During COVID 19

Posted By Amy Meuers, Monday, March 23, 2020

Imagine all students starting their school days by eating a healthy breakfast, then jumping on their laptops to connect with their teachers through Google Classroom, then Facetiming with fellow students to complete their group projects. Imagine all parents knowing that their children are receiving the best educations despite classrooms having been moved from school buildings to living rooms. Imagine every teacher equipped with the training and knowledge to ensure that every student has the opportunity to succeed.


Unfortunately, this is not the reality for many students across the United States. Issues of equity become readily apparent when students go hungry because they no longer have school breakfast or lunch.  Students may have been assigned a computer from school but the coffee shop or library where they used to connect to the internet to do their homework is no longer open. Or they are isolated in a rural area with limited broadband. The COVID-19 crisis has made the issue of education equity even more apparent.


Young people are the largest stakeholders in the achievement gap. And because they have the most at stake, they also are positioned to make the most profound change. Once exposed to the roots of the issue, they tend to want to learn more about educational equity, to identify solutions, and to serve as change agents in their schools and communities. Analyzing the factors that contribute to the achievement gap enables students to begin to understand how they can affect it.


So, what can students do today to help address issues facing themselves and their fellow students?

  • Investigate - What is happening in the community? Survey fellow students to learn about the challenges they are facing; research the community to see what resources are offered; then decide which issue to address.
  • Plan and Prepare – Make a plan for how to tackle the issue. Will it require a budget? A timeline? What resources (volunteers, community experts, technology, etc.) will it take to address the issue?
  • Action – Put the plan into action.
  • Reflect – Reflect on what worked, what didn’t and then…
  • Demonstrate – Share with others. Use hashtag #youth4ed on Twitter, tag @nylcorg on Facebook and Instagram, share the story with the local press and with NYLC.

Youth innovation on issues affecting equity will lead to lasting change. By addressing just one factor of the achievement gap, young people and adults can influence the overall outcome of a student’s academic achievement and may be able to affect other factors that are critical to the overall learning experience. The story “Oxford Student Sets Up Volunteer Tutoring Service" is a great example of how students can create solutions to inequity. Student Jacob Kelly set up an initiative to connect college students with school students in need of tutoring services. He has more than 300 volunteers making an impact on the lives of students. Another example comes from StuVoice, a youth-led organization addressing education equity, which has created a petition to colleges and universities to create more equitable admissions process due to the cancellation of ACT and SAT tests. COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates pre-existing inequities in college access, it is critical that urgent action is taken to ensure low-income, minority and other underrepresented student groups have equitable access to the admissions process. 


To learn more about education equity and how to take action, visit Youth4Ed. A program of NYLC, Youth4Ed works with Lead Activists from high schools across the nation to pioneer service-learning projects that support educational equity, especially in these virtual education times. Visit to learn more and become part of the solution today.


Tags:  education equity  servicelearning  youth leadership  youthvoice 

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COVID-19: Update on the National Service-Learning Conference

Posted By Amy Meuers, Thursday, March 12, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, March 11, 2020

For 31 years, the National Youth Leadership Council has brought together students, educators, nonprofit & community leaders from across the United States and around the world for the National Service-Learning Conference so that we can bring recognition to the contributions that young people are making to change the world and to help prepare them and their adult mentors in reaching their goals.

The NYLC Board and staff have closely watched the developing situation around the COVID-19 virus and the recent diagnoses in the city of our upcoming conference. The safety of our participants is of utmost importance to us, and we do not want to jeopardize anyone’s health. We know that communities, students, educators, school partners, and families are concerned about travel and large gatherings and many school districts have prohibited travel all together. For these reasons, the NYLC board voted to move the 31st Annual National Service-Learning Conference to a virtual platform … Unmask Your Potential the virtual experience, April 16-17, 2020!

In addition, we are happy to announce that the 32nd Annual National Service-Learning Conference will take place in New Orleans, La. in partnership once again with Harry Hurst Middle School and St. Charles Parish. We are honored that the administrators, teachers, community leaders, and students are committed to hosting the event. So, mark your calendars and join us next year to experience the hospitality of New Orleans, April 8-10, 2021!

Current Unmask Your Potential registered attendees will receive admittance to the 32nd Annual Conference in New Orleans, April 8-10, 2021 with the same access purchased this year as well as access to the virtual experience, April 16-19, 2020. The current conference refund/cancellation policy remains in effect and requests will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

We are committed to providing you with the best of the educational sessions, plenary speakers, and connecting opportunities will be offered via the Service-Learning Network—enabling participants to share resources and ideas through the online platform! Additional details on how to access the online experience will be sent to registered attendees. Not registered? Learn more about the online experience and register today. Visit:

NYLC remains committed to convening the field of service-learning whether in-person or online so that we can all work together to create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world through service-learning. We look forward to connecting with you virtually and seeing you in-person in 2021 in New Orleans.


National Youth Leadership Council

Tags:  National Service-Learning Conference  service-learning 

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Minneapolis Becomes Child Friendly City

Posted By Amy Meuers, Tuesday, February 18, 2020

On Friday, February 14, 2020 Minneapolis Minnesota became the first city in the nation to become a Child Friendly City as designated by the United Nations in support of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Child Friendly Cities Initiative (CFCI) is a UNICEF-led initiative that supports local governments in realizing the rights of children at the local level using the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as its foundation. The United States in the only country in the world that has not ratified these rights.

Mayor Frey stated, "this brings Minneapolis into an international community of cities that strives to bring young people's voices into decision-making".  One of NYLC's core values is youth voice and we are elated that Minneapolis is recognizing the contribution that young people are and can make in the world. 

Visit the NYLC Youtube channel for coverage of the event.

Tags:  rights of the child  youth voice 

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Connecting Girls Across the World to Change the World

Posted By Christian Buonfiglio, Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Daisy Leonard and her sisters, Coco and Sunny, have problems of global importance to solve. Racial and religious hatred, the decline in the mental health of young people, and the marginalization of girls drove them to create Dynamic Champions of Sisterhood, an online reading club that connects girls from all over the world to help them build confidence, challenge old ideas, and change the world.

The Leonard sisters created DCS with funding provided by the Points of Light Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to engaging with people from all walks of life to help the world meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The sisters presented their ideas at the 2019 Youth Leadership Summit, which was hosted by the National Youth Leadership Council as part of the POLF Conference.   My colleague Maddy Wegner, Director of Youth Engagement at NYLC, invited us to the Points of Light Foundation Youth Summit when she heard about DCS,” said Daisy, 16. “She saw its potential and knew that the financial and networking support we could gain at the Summit would immensely help us carry out our vision.”

The support from POLF helped the Leonard sisters transform DCS from an informal group to a full-fledged nonprofit organization.  “We wanted a bigger platform to reach more forgotten girls around the world, and be able to give them a stage and unlock the voice inside of them,” said Coco, 15. “By creating the non-profit, not only would we have a better business model that would be long-lasting and sustainable … but also a better way to reach out to foreign organizations in other countries.”

With the help of Facebook and the hard work of skilled translators, DCS has been hosting multiple book clubs with girls from Afghanistan, India, and Togo. The girls from Afghanistan, who call their group Kahari – “sisterhood” in the Dari language – have been reading Les Miserables and discussing isolation and prison. The Indian girls, who call their club Aghnipankh, or “Wings of Fire” in Marathi, have been reading The Diary of Anne Frank and discussing tradition and individuality. The largest group, Le Papillon, French for "The Butterfly," is made up of girls from Togo, who are all students from a boarding school. “They all are girls that would ordinarily have no voice and wouldn't be asked what their opinion is, and they have all felt the feeling of being forgotten by the world,” said Coco. “They all are not only wanting a voice, but are taking the opportunity presented to them and thriving.”

These book clubs are held in order to bring girls together and discuss difficult and often vulnerable subjects openly.  “The truth is that the books pushed participants past personal differences, and into a world where universal truths faced by all girls worldwide could be unearthed,” Daisy said. “Participants could externalize and express their thoughts and feelings through characters in a book.”

The discussions were enlightening, and Coco said that they also corrected many of her misconceptions about girls from other countries.  “I truthfully always thought they just followed whatever their elders told them without question,” Coco said. “But after speaking to them I realized that they do question the ways of their elders, and that they don't always get along with their parents, and that they also feel like nobody understands.”

A large part of hosting these discussions is healing the rift between human beings caused by the isolation, anxiety, and depression frequently caused by today’s social climate.  “[American girls] aren’t having meaningful conversations,” said Sunny, 13. “Today teens are so caught up in comparing themselves on social media, as well as in everyday stresses, that they unknowingly create a powerful barrier of isolation through ignorance.”

Through leading these discussions, the Leonard sisters and their participants have learned the importance of empathy across borders and the power that girls have in their collective voice.  “This kind of an organization is so important to be able to connect the next generation of young people,” Sunny said. “It gives the next generation a strong sisterhood so that the world is not fearing one another, and so that no girl in this world feels that they are alone and have no voice.”

Learn more about DCS here.

Tags:  dynamic champions of sisterhood  points of light foundation  polf  service-learning  youth voice 

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