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September-October 2019 Service-Learning Digest

Posted By NYLC, Saturday, October 26, 2019
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2019

The fall is here! School is back in session, the leaves are turning orange, and service-learning programs are bringing students nationwide closer to their communities. Here are just a few examples of service-learning in action over the past few months.


UNO service-learning program receives national award

The University of Nebraska at Omaha has been partnering with students in the Omaha public school system to work on service-learning projects to address issues within their communities. For their hard work, the initiative received the Excellence in Community Partner Engagement Award from the Engagement Scholarship Consortium!

Read more at The Gateway


STEM students learn civic engagement in Washington, DC

Learning about civic engagement is like any other kind of learning - students remember more when they learn by doing. A group of undergraduate students from UC San Diego traveled to DC to fight for the DREAM Act and discussed their plans to build civic engagement in their own communities.

Read more at the UC San Diego News Center


High school students gather to build youth voice in California

Youth voice is often ignored, and a group of high school students in Menlo Park, California gathered at the 1Bay Youth Action Summit to make their voices heard. Students discussed the civil rights movement, learned the power of youth voice, and registered to vote.

Read more at InMenlo


Medical students learn to meet community needs

Practicing medicine is more than treating symptoms - it's about finding your community's healthcare needs and addressing them. Medical students at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan learned about the issues faced in their community in order to better meet their needs.

Read more at wayne.edu


High school students learn environmental stewardship

With the climate crisis looming, students nationwide are fighting to protect their communities from pollution and waste. Students at Crestwood High School in Mantua, Ohio learned how to lead in their communities by example and helped clean up their local Cuyahoga River.

Read more at the Weekly Villager


Engineering students host free repair cafe

Sometimes, service-learning is as simple as helping your peers fix their phones. The Society of Women Engineers at UMass Lowell hosted a free repair cafe to practice their craft by serving others' needs, free of charge.

Read more at the Lowell Sun


Service-learning is happening everywhere, all the time - and it works.


Tags:  service-learning  service-learning digest  youth development  youth leadership 

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Celebrate Lights On Afterschool

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, October 22, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, October 15, 2019
https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=2lDL1VbydvA

Celebrate the 20th annual Lights On Afterschool Oct. 24, 2019!

Launched in October 2000, Lights On Afterschool is the only nationwide event celebrating afterschool programs and their important role in the lives of children, families and communities. The effort has become a hallmark of the afterschool movement and generates media coverage across the country each year.

The Afterschool Alliance organizes Lights On Afterschool to draw attention to the many ways afterschool programs support students by offering them opportunities to learn new things—such as science, community service, robotics, Tae Kwon Do and poetry—and discover new skills. The events send a powerful message that millions more kids need quality afterschool programs.

Learn more and prepare to celebrate!

Tags:  afterschool  service-learning 

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Meet Julie Rogers Bascom: NYLC's Director of Training & Leadership Development

Posted By Administrator, Tuesday, October 15, 2019
From an interview conducted by U.S. China Relations Fellow, Li Sai

"When I was sitting at the “secret discussion” held by 212 leadership in Edina high school, I was constantly amazed by the capabilities those 17-year-olds have showed, either when they were making difficult decisions on selecting the next cabinet or trying to figure out the best way to announce the news. What’s more, those discussions were happening almost without adult intervention", said NYLC's Director of Training and Leadership Development, Julie Rogers Bascom at the beginning of our interview on this cool Minnesota morning.

Julie continues, "I use 'almost' because the teacher was indeed sitting next to me." Julie, who most of the time was observing while sometimes bringing up key questions, is the person behind 212 Leadership at Edina High School.

1. The sentence that has changed her life path

Julie is the Service-Learning coach at Edina high school while also serving in her capacity at NYLC. She speaks slowly, but every sentence she says would provoke you to think for a few seconds. She graciously masters the power of slow.

Her career working with youth begins with the education experience of her own children.  Julie’s children were born in Oakland California and attended a local independent school. Unlike other private schools, this one was special. Over half of the students were of color with 40% receiving tuition assistance.  However, students who graduated from this school, ranging from their social emotional learning to other soft skills like critical thinking or communications were just off the charts compared to their peers in other schools.

So, what is the secret?

The answer is that the school has a service-learning program where every student is engaged throughout the year. Julie was deeply touched by the effectiveness of this approach and believed that service should always be part of her children’s lives.  Shorty after that, the family moved to Minnesota where Julie’s children went to Edina. At that time, Edina did not have something like service-learning. So Julie approached the teacher asking whether she could lead a unit on service-learning.  Call it fate or destiny, not long after that trial the school received a grant from the federal government to implement service-learning. Excited about the news, Julie hurried to the school interested in knowing more about how the money would be used.  “The teacher asked me what would you do if you had this grant, so I told her ideas I had in my mind.” And next, Julie heard the sentence that would later change her life. “Well, when can you start?”  That’s how Julie got the job. Since then, she has been nurturing young people grow through service and this year is her 15th year since she received that job offer.  It seems that this unexpected job offer stems from her children’s education, but perhaps it has been written in her life code way earlier.

2. The light on a Christmas morning

Julie grew up in a farm in Minnesota. Her family and the neighborhood are all Christian, for whom Christmas is a big deal in the community.  One Christmas morning, Julie’s father came back home with a piece of bad news - one of their horses had fallen into the pond!  How absurd! This had never happened before and it hit on a Christmas morning, who would come to help?  In half an hour, Julie’s father made three phone calls. A few minutes later, 12 farmers showed up in front of the house with ropes and all kinds of tools they could think of to get the horse out of the pond.  Without doubt, they collectively saved the horse and a Christmas time that could otherwise been sad for Julie’s family.  Until now, Julie still holds vivid memory to that morning. The kindness of the neighbors is like a light to her, not only lit up the festive atmosphere but also her pursuit of the common good.  Julie chose to pass that light to the younger generation, in order to honor the legacy of her father’s generation and to support young people to make themselves, the society and the country even better.  However, when some students come to Julie asking to volunteer or service, instead of getting them immediately onboard, she usually asks them what they are interested in or what they are passionate about.  “Many students do community service because they want to look good on their resumes.” Julie is very cautious about that because to her, service is not a checklist or a project to be done, but a genuine heart for solving problems.  “Service-Leanring is not a project but a process.” 

Julie further illustrated with a story about blankets.  One day, a group of elementary students wanted to tie blankets into fleece so that they can give to homeless people. Consuming quite amount of time, they finally delivered the blankets to a homeless shelter. To their surprise, the woman at the reception was almost offended. The students were very disappointed, “that’s how you appreciate our hard work?”  The next year, a teacher who had been trained in service learning encouraged the students to find out the reason. During their investigation, a student called the homeless shelter. What he heard was, “we love your blankets but you didn’t make up for the size of what we need. They were too short for the men who sleep here.” Finally, the students understood why. For their first try, the goal is actually to tie up blankets and get the project done, while the second is to find out what is needed. 

I have seen many service and volunteer programs, either initiated by children or adults, are actually to make people who did it feel good, without meeting the real need. Then how to avoid such a result? Julie’s answer is asking good questions.

3. What does a good question look like?  What is a good question? How to ask good questions?

This is not a ability only required by journalists. A proverb says asking the good question can solve half of the problem. Some good questions can make strangers suddenly become friends while some can provoke deep thinking which is particularly important to young people.  Julie has introduced me a tool she finds transforming, the Question Matrix.  Take hunger for example, referring to this matrix, you can write questions like what is hunger? When does hunger happen? Which factors would trigger hunger? Who would be affected by hunger? How might we tackle the problem of hunger? To name but a few.  As the question becomes harder, the students begin to think deeper and more comprehensively.  In fact, the attention on asking questions reflects the shift on teacher’s role.  “I would rather be a coach than a teacher.”

Julie remembered one of the 212 leadership member once said to her, “this group is nothing like other groups I have ever been because you don't tell us what to do. You just ask us questions and help us figure it out.”  To Julie, this was the one of the most rewarding moment in her career life. With all those years planting the seed of facilitation and watering with good questions, she finally harvested the blossom. 

4. Have you practiced respectful conversation?

Handling student conflicts is inevitable to a teacher. Knowing how to manage conflicts is not only useful for a teacher but every one of us, after all who has not have some friction with others?  I remembered a few years back, I was in an interview and one of the questions was, give an example of a time you have a conflict with someone and how did you deal with that? I thought for a long time. Not because I never had such experience but I always choose to avoid confrontation. It seems to me that all controversy would lead to quarrel and eventually a breakdown.

But is it true? Maybe not if I have tried respectful conversation.

Respectful Conversation was brought up by Minnesota Council of Churches as a protocol for discussing difficult topics. Since 2012, more than 3,000 Minnesotans have participated in over 100 Respectful Conversations on a variety of divisive topics such as gay marriage or “race” relations. Julie came across this approach right after the 2016 presidential election, at which time anger needs a rational outlet.  When people with different opinions begin to sit down and talk, magic happens.  70% of participants report: “I have a stronger sense of empathy for those whose viewpoint is different from my own.”  Over 95% agree that they felt listened to, and this process is different than a polarizing debate. Even months after their conversation experience, people report greater awareness of their own listening attitudes, more curiosity about those they would previously have considered opponent, and even transformed family relationships. 

American researchers have long criticized about the lack of robust discussions of public issues in the classroom. Given the current environment of increasing ideological and cultural diversity, many teachers are fearful that open discussions may be hurtful to marginalized students.  Together with Minnesota Council of Churches and Minnesota Civic Youth, Julie has been promoting Respectful Conversation in classrooms which includes the following steps.

1. Norms
2. Three questions
3. Final reflection
4. Timed
5. Peer-led

Norms are protocols agreed by the group, for example, practice respect, listen carefully, respect confidentiality, so on and so forth. One of the important norms is speak for oneself using the “I” statement. Julie said American schools and out-of-school programs often teach students how to debate, but when discussing controversial topics, starting with “you” can go emotional and extreme. That’s why offering “my” opinions and feelings is critical.

Respectful Conversation entails three questions. The first is what in your experience or background or values leads you to your feelings/opinions, the second is what are your hopes and the last is what are your fears. Each question lasts one round where students can choose pass or pass for now. Teachers should also give students some time to think beforehand. All this is to reduce students stress and anxiety when they face with tough questions.  Once the three questions are completed, the conversation comes to a final reflection session, aiming to help students reflect individually and as a group. Teachers don’t want to experience awkward silence but they also don’t want to see someone talking endlessly. Thus, a timer is a must. Last but not least, all the steps mentioned above don’t necessarily have to be done by teachers. Instead, Julie always trains students to be facilitators of peer discussions. 

5. What is the key word of your life?

In her spare time, Julie is involved in an organization called “Doing Good Together” which helps families with resources and ideas of how to raise children who care and contribute. One Saturday when Julie was attending their retreat, she met a man outside the building who looks like experiencing homeless or similar situations. When the guy learned what she was working on, he said, “well my mom had eleven children, seven are foster kids and she still made sure that whatever anybody in the community needed they got it.  Even until today, we still need an organization that teaches people how to be kind to each other, that’s so…”

Julie didn’t finish the rest of the sentence. But she didn’t have to. She is doing so by her behaviors. No matter as a volunteer or consultant, she always tries to be closer to the common good. Since working with NYLC four years ago, Julie has been enthusiastically promoting service-learning to ensure young people are able to make responsible decisions that will benefit all of us. Although there are high mountains to climb ahead, she believe the goal of our education should be creating active citizens and service-learning certainly is the solution. For Julie, civic engagement has become the center of her life.

If she didn’t send her children to that school in California, if she didn’t volunteer to lead that service-learning unit in Edina, if she didn’t grow extra curiosity to ask about that grant, Julie said she might be a housewife now.  This job has opened the door to a professional career, gradually making her an expert in the field, more importantly, it continues to help shape the world a little girl saw on that Christmas morning. 

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Announcing the 31st Annual National Service-Learning Conference

Posted By Amy Meuers, Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The National Youth Leadership Council is honored to partner with Harry Hurst Middle School and St. Charles Parish Public Schools to bring you the 31st Annual National Service-Learning Conference, April 16 – 18, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

This year’s theme is Unmask Your Potential– it’s a call for educators and community members to join in partnership with students to make positive change in the world. The mission of the National Service-Learning Conference is to 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 conference does this through learning, inspiration, and connection. Both youth and adults come out of the experience with the tools and resources, ideas and inspiration, to return home to improve their practice, their schools, and their communities.

The 31st annual conference will provide more than 60 hands-on learning opportunities through workshops, keynotes, and thought leader sessions. Topics range from social-emotional learning and civic education to youth leadership and international service-learning. The conference will conclude with a Day of Service in partnership with the Wetland Watchers Coastal Restoration Service-Learning Project of Louisiana. Whether you are new to service-learning or an experienced practitioner, this conference has something for you.

There are many ways for you to get involved in this year’s event by presenting and exhibiting to sponsoring and attending. Join us at the world’s largest gathering of service-learning leaders, educators, and change-makers for Unmask Your Potential!

Learn more and register today!

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Tags:  national service-learning conference  professional development  service-learning  youth leadership 

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Twenty Teams Receive Project Ignition Grants to Promote Safer, Smarter Driving

Posted By Administration, Monday, August 19, 2019

ST. PAUL, Minn. (August 19, 2019) – Coordinated by the National Youth Leadership Council® and funded by The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration, Project Ignition has selected 20 teams from throughout the United States to receive $1,000 service-learning teen driver safety grants in 2019. 

 

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, auto crashes are the number one cause of death for teens in this country. Project Ignition is a youth-led response that connects academic goals to address the issue of teen driver safety through service-learning. The grants will support student-designed and student-led campaigns aimed at preventing car crashes in their community. 

 

“Young people have unique capacity to influence their peers’ behaviors. Especially when supported by adult allies, students can save lives by changing practices such as seat-belt use or the decision to not drive under the influence,” said Amy Meuers, NYLC CEO. “Together with The NHTSA, we are honored to provide students and their adult allies with the support they need to transform their ideas into realities and make a measurable difference in teen driver safety. Recognition of these efforts affirms the capabilities of young people to lead effectively on issues that affect their community.”

 

Each applicant’s plans were evaluated during a rigorous judging process and 20 were selected, in part, based on a commitment to service-learning and the use of proven-effective strategies in changing teen driver behavior. Students will inform, engage and motivate their peers while teachers and afterschool program educators will simultaneously link these activities to academic curriculum. View the full list of participating team here.

 

The two most effective campaigns that emerge from these 20 will be honored at the 2020 National Service-Learning Conference. Youth representatives from these national leaders will be recognized for their commitment to saving lives and positively impacting the communities in which they live.

 

For more information about NYLC and service-learning go to www.nylc.org.

Tags:  project ignition  service-learning  teen driver safety  youth leadership 

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A High School Musical: A Reflection on the Shinnyo-en Foundation Annual Retreat

Posted By NYLC, Monday, August 19, 2019

by Carmen Lopez Villamil



The Marconi Conference Center sits atop a hill that overlooks the bay. To reach it, one must drive through San Francisco’s famed pastel homes, across the Golden Gate Bridge, and along miles of road that twist around hilly farmland and between magnificent redwoods. This drive was only the beginning of the wonder and joy that I experienced at the Shinnyo-en Foundation’s Annual Retreat.



If you have yet to discern the setting of the retreat, feel free to reread the first paragraph. If I was unclear, the Marconi Center is beautiful. As we drove along the bay and turned into the forest on Friday afternoon, I had no idea what I would experience over the next few days. First, I met Jay: exuberant and inattentive to norms, notably, those set by Ineko. Ineko is powerful, composed, and kind. I then met my roommate, Esha, and the other high school students at the retreat. We were acquainted through an admittedly stressful name game, involving the memorization of 35 names and associated foods. In this short introduction, I discovered that everyone, from the Shinnyo-en Foudnation staff to my new friends, instantly inspired me with their charisma and passion for service, learning, and the conjunction of the two.


It wasn’t long until I figured out the purpose of the retreat. Sandra Bass, the director of the Public Service Center at Berkeley, began her workshop with her family history. Her story was of slavery, segregation, and of her parents’ triumph over systemic oppression. The social context of this history is the ground, while the ensuing values are her roots. She went on to describe family and the Public Service Center as her support system, her trunk. And the culmination, the fruit, was service, in its many manifestations. The retreat’s purpose was to help individuals discover why they serve and how their past informs and strengthens their service. It was to share our roots and our fruits, to contribute to each other’s trunks and ultimately change our shared ground.


This aim was fulfilled most crucially by a group of people I failed to mention earlier: my Homegroup. There were six homegroups, each with six people, and presumably randomly assigned. It was so random, or perhaps this was Ineko’s intent, that I first thought I could not bond or share with them. It’s a shameful revelation, but I find it difficult to talk about myself honestly. And so it began, with what I thought would be a shallow session of sharing our family’s history with a boastful conclusion of what we have accomplished. That was not the case.


By the time the first member of my Homegroup had finished talking, we were all speechless and in tears. As the second person began, I tried to listen wholly and actively, but I realized that I trusted these people and that I must be honest with them. Everyone told their story earnestly, trustingly, and forced me to do the same. Though I typically resort to sarcasm to evade sincerity, and I could not entirely discard this defense, my Homegroup pushed me – or “stretched” me – to be honest. It was empowering to share my values and history to a group of supportive strangers and to form part of that group for others.


On Saturday, after a session on restorative justice that asked us to question systems and norms, and a vulnerable iteration of show and tell (also with our homegroups and highly recommended), was Open Mic night. Nothing could have prepared me for that night. It is important to note that my arsenal of defense mechanisms, along with sarcasm, includes an avid avoidance of public vulnerability: no singing or dancing.


But my new friends, all high schoolers in California, did not share this aversion. Maybe it’s something in the water, or in their case, lack thereof? But earlier that day, we had decided to learn and perform the iconic finale of High School Musical, “We’re All In This Together.” I agreed gleefully and enjoyed our impromptu rehearsals during our free-time. It was all fun and games until we actually had to dance in front of 30 mature adults. But we did it, and there is a video somewhere that I hope you never have to see, and it was one of the most joyous and free moments of my summer.



 

The Shinnyo-en Foundation’s Retreat was a lot like High School Musical; it was an ideal experience of self-exploration, building relationships and pure fun. I cried and laughed, reflected and danced, ate very well and basked in the serene landscape of Northern California. It was a deeply emotional discovery of who I am and its effect on how I serve and learn. I cannot wait to keep stretching myself in everything I do and bring the impactful activities from the retreat back to the rest of the Youth Advisory Council. Above all, I ask you to challenge your assumptions, to trust others with your story, and to discover why you serve. Service-learning is a fantastic pedagogy, but its meaning rests in your reasons for doing it. They are thus worth identifying, even if it requires a little discomfort; or a highly choreographed routine in matching T-shirts.


A special “thank you” to the Shinnyo-en Foundation for creating a powerful agenda and the space for an experience like no other. We are truly grateful.

Tags:  national youth leadership council  retreat  shinnyo-en foundation  youth leadership 

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Summer Internships: The Best Way to Prepare

Posted By Fatumo Mohamed, Monday, August 12, 2019

by Fatumo Mohamed


Internships get a bad reputation, which leads to people hesitating to find any or do them. Most people believe that interns only do mundane tasks like making coffee or filing papers. While interns may do some of these tasks once in a while, the idea that this is what internships are about is objectively false. The most important reason to find internships, especially during the summer, is the experience it gives you. By working in an internship, you get real work experience. This is essential for future job positions, especially if you’re planning to get a job in the field that you are interning in. You can learn about or be told to do something, but that is not the same as actually doing it. You learn what to expect in a working environment and how to navigate one. You develop a relationship with your boss as they take you under their wing and show you the ropes. By interacting with your coworkers, you learn different methods by which people work and ways that a team functions. Being an intern also means being treated like an employee, which teaches you accountability. You are being supervised and told how to improve. All of this combined makes you more ready when you enter the workforce of your choice compared to your peers who haven’t done internships.

What do you think about extra college credit? Most people go above and beyond to find ways they can get extra credit for school, particularly college students. Internships are one easy and helpful to get some additional credit! During school you’re most likely not willing to take an internship along with a full course load; however, during the summer, you most likely have either no classes or a much lighter workload, thus making it possible to find an internship that works with your schedule. Most internships offer college credit, meaning a lesser workload moving forward, and even graduating earlier. Most degree programs encourage or require college students to take an internship so they can get hands-on experience before they graduate. If you are a college student, it is highly encouraged you talk to your college counselor to see if you can get credit from internship - because you most likely will.

Another skill you can develop at an internship is time management. Time management can be difficult and hectic. Not having efficient time management skills can lead to several problems, including double scheduling, procrastinating, and being late to important meetings and events. Having an internship, particularly a summer internship, teaches you how to successfully manage your time in a smart manner. Being an intern teaches you how to manage tight deadlines, too. You learn how to manage multiple tasks and get several duties done without rushing. By learning how to be time efficient, you learn more skills overall, because being good at time management means finding time to learn more skills. If you’re done typing up your report, you can watch the recorded team meetings and learn how to act and contribute to one.

All these skills combined will help you be the best employee possible once you start your dream job - and it all starts with a summer internship.

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Back to School Service-Learning

Posted By NYLC, Monday, August 12, 2019

by Christian Buonfiglio


Students nationwide return to school over the next few weeks. If you’re a teacher, school faculty member, or education professional who’s looking to add meaningful service opportunities and a better understanding of service-learning to your school, consider what NYLC has to offer.

From September 2019 to March 2020, NYLC will be hosting a series of online webinars. These webinars will provide an enhanced understanding of service-learning, and cover subjects such as:

These webinars will be presented via Zoom and available for all members of the Service-Learning Network to view afterward.

NYLC has also partnered with 9/11 Day to bring service-learning to schools. With informative toolkits for students and facilitators alike, your school can unite on September 11th and participate in a day of service that brings our nation together.

Additionally, teenagers nationwide will be driving to and from school once again, which means that teen driver safety is a priority. NYLC's teen driver safety program Project Ignition has a free toolkit that provides a curriculum guide for service-learning projects promoting teen driver safety and building a culture of responsible, educated teen drivers.

NYLC also hosts Lift: Raising the Bar for Service-Learning Practice, a collection of videos explaining each of the K-12 Service-Learning Standards. This collection of informative, engaging video guides to service-learning follows three schools through their service-learning journeys, and provides a blueprint for any school that wishes to bring service-learning into the classroom.

If you want to take the next step towards integrating service-learning into your school, join the Service-learning network, and gain access to NYLC's upcoming webinars, virtual networking services, and a free subscription to The Leader to keep you up-to-date on service-learning efforts worldwide. Contact us about our trainings and programs to enhance your student’s learning today.

Serve. Learn. Change the World.™

Tags:  back to school  service-learning  service-learning network  teen driver safety 

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Meet NYLC Intern Christian Buonfiglio

Posted By Li Sai, Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The author, Li Sai joined NYLC as a Fellow from the U.S. China Relations Committee. She has since returned to China and her work at Beijing Qixing Foundation for Youth Development.


Buon-fig-li-o. Finally, on my third try, I mumbled these four syllables right. That’s Christian’s family name. In Italian, it means “good son.”

I get to know Christian from the languages I don’t understand - HTML, CSS, Java, you name it. When you are browsing the National Youth Leadership Council’s new website, he is the one behind the scenes. As a recent graduate from Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota, he applied what he has learned about computer science in order to upgrade NYLC’s website with a new membership portal and many other exciting features, like an updated online bookstore and many service-learning resources.

“How was a student with only a two-year degree able to build such a complex system?” I wonder. “Well, I didn’t build the system myself,” he responded. “Mostly, I was working with tools and programs built by professionals. I tweak little bits here and there, and I also do a lot of searching online and asking my professors and classmates for help.”

According to Christian, learning by doing is the way to go. Throughout the process, Christian not only leveraged his skills to solve problems for an organization, but also boosted his self-confidence from a career perspective through this hands-on experience. As opposed to someone who graduated from college with a degree, but little experience, he can already tell an employer that he has worked with a database and created a webpage. Yet reaching this point is not easy. “There were many challenges along the way, but these were not challenges that ever made me wonder why I applied for this position. These were all challenges that I liked.”

I asked him what led him to seek to challenge himself at NYLC. A chance meeting with Rob Shumer, a professor and philanthropist on NYLC’s board of directors, is part of the reason, but not all. “My high school was deeply devoted to service, and there were a lot of volunteer opportunities.” In his senior year, Christian worked with adults with developmental disabilities in a visual and performing art center. Together, they did many improvised acting exercises, and he also made sure that their individual needs were met. For example, he would keep the volume of the room in control for those who had sensory issues. “I was more of a facilitator rather than a caretaker.” In real life, people with disabilities are often treated like children - here is your TV, go watch it - but they are human beings who want to engage with the world around them and with each other. “We can’t direct and treat them like puppets to create the scene. These are people we should work alongside, and not just feel sorry for.” Indeed, when we shift our view, “disabled” can easily become “differently abled.”

This experience also led him to understand that he would not feel satisfied with a well-paying job alone. Although he has been around people with wealth for most of his life, acquiring material goods and endless consumption have never motivated him. “There is no part of me that ever thought ‘I won’t be happy until I make this amount of money.’” Instead, what brings him joy is getting involved in a way that makes a difference and helps the people who need the most. I am reminded again of his family name - “good son”.

His passion for social good is rooted not just in his name, but in his family. His grandfather was a dentist living in Revere, Massachusetts. When Christian was young, he often heard stories of people gaving a bag of tomatoes or a couple of lobsters to his grandfather to cover their treatment cost. “My grandfather really didn’t care about money, he cared about fixing people’s teeth.” Kindness passed down. Christian was raised to think of others first and be mindful of others’ needs.

Now, working at Caribou Coffee, he makes sure to remember customers’ routine order or uncommon name. “It would make their days much easier.” Like people who are addicted to coffee, Christian is addicted to getting satisfaction out of helping others. What a world we would live in if altruism became the caffeine of our life!

I have encountered many Americans like Christian, but I also hear criticism about this country being very individualistic. “I think,” he told me, “that there is a big part of my generation that has started to realize it’s not enough to simply fend for ourselves.” This, I believe, partially comes from a longing for human connection. For instance, Christian and many of his friends must drive a long way to work, which leaves them spending much time in cars and away from other people. A nice paycheck can only get people so far, and human connection has the power to solve problems that money can’t.

While I admire the altruistic values that Christian carries, I also wonder how to grow a heart for something bigger than oneself. The answer Christian gave me is “getting involved”. Even though sometimes the reason we go to a volunteer event is simply because we don’t have anything better to do, or we want to look good on college applications, when we look at it afterwards, we feel great about what we did and want to do more. Then, once we get involved in our communities, we must take the next step. “We should not forget to create opportunities for those who are coming in.”

Providing opportunities for others is something Christian would love to achieve along with his career. Enthusiastic about art, he wants to be an artist, but he wants to be known for more than just art. “I want to work with other artists that aren’t typically given enough spotlight. I want to invite them in and give them a spotlight of their own, but in a way that does not frame them as poor, struggling people to pity.” It reminds me of his attitude when working with people with disabilities during high school. I can say for sure that viewing less advantaged people as different, rather than deficient, is deeply embedded in his past and future.

Speaking of the future, Christian is embarking on an exciting journey - he will study at Hamline University in Saint Paul, Minnesota this coming fall! He will not have to spend four years there, but only two, thanks to his associate degree at DCTC. However, four years ago, he had a different plan.

“I went to Providence College in Rhode Island in 2015, but wasn’t emotionally prepared, so I came home.” Two years later, he started with two classes in DCTC, hoping to transfer those credits to Providence College when he returned in the fall. But this decision didn’t lead him back to Rhode Island. “The teacher of my English class was really supportive! She introduced me to the idea of getting the first two years’ worth of credits at DCTC without so much debt.” Up until then, Christian was struggling to decide between getting a job and going to college. “I was thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll get an English degree,’ but there is a common misconception in America that if you major in English, sociology, or psychology, you will end up doing something irrelevant to what you studied. I wasn’t sure whether it would worth my time.” One day after class, he and his English teacher stayed for an hour talking about the possibilities, and it was at that time that he realized that, through the lens of English, he could learn about many other areas that he is interested in.

For many people, DCTC is where you learn how to brew beer or fix cars, but for Christian, it was the starting point of his journey into higher education. More importantly, it is proof that he is ready to move forward in his life. “That is my biggest accomplishment so far,” Christian said with a relieved smile.

After my two-hour interview with him, I no longer worry about how to pronounce his name. I know that even if I forget, I will always remember what a “good son” looks like.


Fun facts about Christian:

Q1: If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

A: I would do a lot more creative writing.

Q2: What is the most creative thing you have ever done?

A: Playing Dungeons & Dragons. (Before playing, Christian always writes a brief recap of what happened the last week to recount to his fellow players. He needs some rest!)

Q3: What is something that your friends would consider “so you”?

A: Wearing shirts with floral patterns, and reading fiction, reviews, and online articles.

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June-July Service-Learning Digest

Posted By NYLC, Wednesday, July 10, 2019

June – July Service-Learning Digest


Summer is a great time for service-learning, especially the action and celebration steps of the IPARD/C process (learn more about the service-learning process at nylc.org). Check out these great stories for inspiration for your next project!


Methodist College camp puts fun emphasis on volunteering and learning

Nine-year-old Lydia Ellis had fun at camp this week, not by playing but helping.

She spent Tuesday volunteering at the Midwest Food Bank as part of Methodist College’s Summer Learn and Serve Camp. Afterward, she raved to her mom about the experience.

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Knoxville Schools reach new heights in 2018-19

As our students enjoy their summer break, the Knoxville Community School District is reflecting on a school year full of outstanding achievements on the part of our students, staff and community. “We started the school year with a number of ambitious goals to raise the bar for achievement, and also to promote life skills, career development and student well-being,” said Cassi Pearson, KCSD Superintendent. “I am proud of the commitment our students and staff gave to help us accomplish these goals.”

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Local teacher traveling to bring service-learning to classrooms

With stops at Yellowstone National Park, Seattle and then all the way to Belize, a Rowan County educator is putting in the miles this summer to bring a new perspective to local classrooms.

Though her travels will consume all but a matter of days in this year’s nine-week summer break, North Rowan Middle School teacher Angie Fleming is enjoying every moment.

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Forsyth service learning project connects students with senior citizens

A service learning project in Forsyth is connecting students with senior citizens. About 15 kids from Forsyth Middle School have been visiting the Forsyth Nursing and Rehab Center a couple of times per week. On Monday, the students brought special gifts for each resident. "I like giving the gifts because it makes me feel warm inside," Student Olivia Kossmann said.

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Lisbon sixth-graders complete service learning project, ‘Spruce Up Sugg’

Kyle Beeton, teacher at P.W. Sugg Middle School, just finished up a service learning project with his sixth-grade students. The project, named “Spruce Up Sugg,” was designed to use math concepts to help provide a springboard for making improvements to the landscaping around the front of the school.

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Tags:  service-learning  service-learning digest  youth development  youth leadership 

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