Community Service is a part of 4-H, beginning with pledging our hands to larger service. 4-H members and volunteers have historically given back to their community through a variety of volunteer efforts, and serving others should still be a part of each 4-H club’s yearly plan.
Benefits of Community Service
According to Allan Smith, (1997) “Community Service Learning strengthens the skills and knowledge 4- H’ers are acquiring by actively combining their learning with service to help meet real community need. Every 4-H participant is encouraged to take part in community service that fits his/her areas of learning, as an important feature of 4-H youth development.” This type of experiential learning will allow members to explore a variety of career options.
It is important to make sure all members are involved when deciding and implementing a community service project. Start with a brainstorming session where all ideas can be discussed, helping to give all members a sense of ownership. This process also allows for diverse ideas, view points, and experiences to be discussed. Once members are interested in a community service project, there are just a few easy steps to follow to make sure the activity is a success. You may be surprised by the needs members are picking up on in our communities. They often notice more than realized.
- What needs to be done?—Complete a needs assessment to determine the need in the community. This can be done by surveying the community or having a meeting with community members to find out what projects are needed. Then compare the list you formed during the brainstorming session with the list of needs identified.
- Prioritize—You now have an opportunity to prioritize the list or lists you have compiled. This can be done in a variety of ways:
- Vote by having youth receive a specific number of dots (3 to 5) to vote directly on a large post-it note pad with the list on it.
- Have a list on a digital device and use clickers to vote.
- Raise hands to vote, etc.
- Narrow the list down to 3 to 6. Have the group discuss the ones that received the most votes. Are they a good fit for the club? Are all members of the club able to participate? Have members vote again to finalize results. This time, vote for only one if they were allowed to vote for more than one the first time.
- Planning—It is time for specifics! What is the project and can it be completed by club members? It is very important to ensure that everyone has a part in the process. All members must feel that their assistance is an important part of the operation. One way to ensure everyone’s participation is to compile a list of items that need to be done. Additional resources which may help you through the process can be found in the Making the Best 4-H Clubs Better 2.0 curriculum, including Community Service (2014) and Making Community Service Safe (2014) lesson plans.
Have members list their three most desirable activities and make sure they get assigned to at least one. Then spread the remaining jobs evenly throughout the group. This is the entire club’s project, so everyone should be assisting in all tasks whether small or large. Make sure that the club news reporter is taking pictures and notes to submit a story to the local media. This will help promote the group and its service project, and will also shed a light on the need for community service and possibly encourage other groups to plan similar activities.
- Evaluation—An important part of community service actually occurs after the hard work is done and tools are put away. The fourth step in a community service project is taking time to review what members have done and learned through this activity. Processing the activity will help members remember the experience and can help set the stage for future projects. Volunteers may want to give each member an opportunity to share what they gained individually from their experience. This gain can be actual knowledge or simply that warm feeling one receives from helping others. Another means of assisting members in their evaluation of the project may be to have them write a journal of their service activities and what those activities meant to them. Do not forget to help members add this activity to the service section of their 4-H project book.
Community Service Activities
The best community service activities for youth are centered around a common interest shared by members of the group. One easy way to identify a common interest is to review the 4-H projects youth are enrolled in. Look for service projects that relate to members' projects. For example, members of a dog group could become trained in pet therapy and work with a retirement center. A photography club could stage an art exhibit to beautify the Courthouse. Or a bicycle group could put on a safety demonstration at a local shopping center or store.
The following are a few ideas that may spark an interest for 4-H members:
- Clean up a local vacant lot that is overgrown with weeds and debris.
- Adopt a highway or street to keep a section of roadside free of litter. Safety first. Make sure members know what to pick up and what not to pick up.
- Provide recycling bins at various points throughout your community to collect newspaper, plastic, or aluminum.
- Support a local animal shelter by providing blankets, food, cleaning cages, or exercising animals.
- Set up and maintain an aquarium or library in a retirement center or hospital.
- Coordinate a food or clothing drive to support local shelters for the homeless.
- Plant and maintain flowers and shrubbery in parks, schools, or downtown areas.
- Conduct a petting zoo with small animals to expose children to animals.
- Work with “Meals on Wheels” to provide food to shut-ins.
- Donation drive for local “backpack pal” programs that provide food to students on weekends and over school breaks or a school backpack filled with supplies for those in need.
There are any number of ideas. The list is limited only by the imaginations of the 4-H members and their volunteers. Contact a local Extension Office or civic organizations for additional ideas, input, or assistance. These groups are always looking for more help in the completion of their mission.
- Smith, A. (1997) Beyond 4-H Community Service…To Community Service Learning, retrieved March 2017: 4-h.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/USDA-community-to-service.pdf.
- Winters, T. (2014) Community Service; Making the Best Clubs Better 2.0. adams.osu.edu/program-areas/4-h-youth-development/making-best-4-h-clubs-better-version-20.
- Bruynis, K., & Winters, T. (2014) Keeping Community Service Safe; Making the Best Club Better 2.0. adams.osu.edu/program-areas/4-h-youth-development/making-best-4-h-clubs-better-version-20.
Original author: Woody Woodrum, Former Ohio State Extension, 4-H Educator, Jackson County. (Originally published in 1999.)