Three steps for youth to participate in a National Days of Service event

Explore how youth can develop citizenship competencies by participating in a National Day of Service event.

Citizenship is one of three National 4-H Mission Mandates, the other two being science and healthy living. Developing the competency of effective citizenship goes hand in hand with the positive youth development principles of 4-H programs. There are many ways that youth can develop citizenship knowledge and skills though their participation in Michigan 4-H, the youth development program of MSU Extension.

One way for 4-H youth and clubs to learn and engage in citizenship is to participate in a National Day of Service event.  National Days of Service are days when many people around the U.S. devote time and energy to projects aimed at improving their community and helping others.

Step #1:  Research and choose a Day of Service to be involved in
National Days of Service with large numbers of participants include the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance, Make a Difference Day, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and Global Youth Service Day.  Many 4-H members also choose to perform community service and volunteer activities during National 4-H Week.  Each National Day of Service has a website that provides information to help participants plan or locate their service activity.

  • September
    •  9/11 Day is observed every year on September 11 as “a day of charitable service and doing good deeds.”  According to the 9/11 Day of Service website, the day was started as a way “to provide a positive way to forever remember and pay tribute to the 9/11 victims, honor those that rose in service in response to the attacks and remind people of the importance of working more closely together in peace to improve our world.”
  • October

    • National 4-H Week takes place October 6-12, 2013.  Many 4-H members and clubs choose National 4-H Week as a time to get together and give back to their communities.  Promotional materials are available on the National 4-H website to help promote National 4-H Week service activities.
      Make A Difference Day is the nation’s largest national day of service and takes place each year on the fourth Saturday in October.  The 2013 Make a Difference Day will take place on October 26.  The Make A Difference Day website includes resources for participating in and planning service projects, including a guide for youth.
  • January

    • The next Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service will take place on January 20, 2014.  This federal holiday, and Day of Service, is an opportunity for all Americans to honor Dr. King’s vision and legacy through civic engagement and service in their community.  According to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service website, “The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a beloved community.” Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is the only national holiday that is observed as a Day of Service.  The website includes resources to assist participants in finding a project and planning a project of their own.
  • April

    • Global Youth Service Day, which began in 1988, is “the largest service event in the world, and the only Day of Service dedicated to children and youth.”  The Day of Service, coordinated by Youth Service America, engages youth in more than 100 countries in projects that are planned and led by youth “to address the world’s most critical issues.”  The next Global Youth Service Day will take place April 11-13, 2014.  The Global Youth Service website includes tools, ideas and news about the day of service that youth, and adults who are working with youth, can use to plan their event and recruit other participants.  Youth may also want to consider participating in the Semester of Service which “encourages students, ages 5-25, to develop a semester-long service-learning project that launches on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service in January and culminates on Global Youth Service Day in April.”

Step #2:  Recruit others to participate and plan your service project
Once a Day of Service event has been chosen, it’s a good idea to find other youth and adults who can help plan, and conduct a service activity in the community. Places to recruit other participants include local 4-H clubs, other youth serving organizations, school groups or faith-based clubs. National Days of Service projects present a great opportunity for groups of youth and adults to work together as partners to address a community need.  Reaching out to local organizations of adults that are interested in community service, such as a Rotary group or other service organization may also help to find people who would be interested in planning and conducting a service event.  Public “kick-off” planning meetings are also a great way to bring in more participants.  Place an announcement in local media outlets, on social media and invite community members to join the group in planning a service activity.

Step #3:  Utilize service-learning resources to plan your project
National Days of Service presents a wonderful opportunity to engage in community service and service-learning.  Traditional community service is a great way to serve one’s community, but youth can gain valuable life skills by structuring the event as a service-learning activity.  The Michigan Community Service Commission defines community-based service-learning as “activities that meet genuine community needs and require the application of knowledge, skills and reflection time.”  Service-learning engages youth more deeply in the service activity, and can help them to develop critical thinking, problem solving, communication, budgeting and planning skills.  Michigan 4-H provides multiple guides and resources for planning a community-based service-learning project with youth.  A critical step of service-learning projects is including time for reflection and celebration, which allows youth to process their experiences and think about how they can apply what they have learned to future projects and situations.

In addition to being an excellent way for youth to develop life skills, participating in a National Day of Service event is a wonderful way for them to make connections with others in their community and to work with other youth and adults to address critical local, national and global issues of concern.

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