Volunteer with Service-Learning

AMES, Iowa — Gov. Branstad’s new initiative, Volunteer Iowa: A Call to Service, asks Iowans to volunteer at least 50 hours each year. One way Iowa volunteers can increase their community service, while adding service-learning to their efforts, is by partnering with 4-H Service-Learning from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

4-H service-learning4-H Service-Learning began with a federally funded grant awarded to the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service and implemented in partnership with ISU Extension and Outreach, said Judy Levings, assistant director of 4-H Youth Development. During the original grant project, known as Reach Out Iowa, youth, guided by adult volunteers, participated in service-learning activities that combined meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience and develop civic responsibility.

Service-Learning Is Key

“Service-learning integrates community needs, intentional learning objectives and structured opportunities for reflection, demonstration and celebration. Service-learning projects take community service or volunteer projects to the next level by emphasizing empowering youth to identify needs in their community and planning service projects themselves. This creates a more meaningful experience for youth,” Levings explained.

The grant funded the initial service-learning activities for youth, as well as training for youth and adult volunteers in the core components of service-learning — investigation, planning, action, reflection, demonstration and celebration — referred to as the IPARDC process, Levings said. During the three-year grant project, 6,912 youth from 45 communities completed 145 community service projects, ranging from providing backpacks filled with healthy food and snacks for food insecure youngsters in Sioux City to creating a safe driving simulation for Madrid citizens.

“The service-learning approach not only benefits the young people involved in the activities, but also strengthens the entire community, as young people gain a voice in the work of community institutions and agencies,” Levings said.

Network Trains Volunteers

“Our Reach Out Iowa grant funding has ended, but 4-H Service-Learning continues,” Levings said. “Now our network of trained youth and adult volunteers throughout the state will support service-learning by providing training and technical assistance to 4-H clubs and other youth development organizations. The goal is to involve many more young people in community-based service-learning activities.”

Service-learning leads to long-term results, as one youth member from a Reach Out Iowa project stated: “I think probably the biggest thing that I’ve gained from these projects is knowing that I’m helping and knowing that I’m making a difference. Later on in life I can use my leadership skills that I’ve gained to, like, just not improve my life, but to keep improving others’ lives as well, because I don’t think I will ever stop doing these things, not now that I’ve started.”

Iowans of all ages take community service seriously. According to the Volunteering in America report from the Corporation for National and Community Service, 867,412 Iowa residents volunteered 80.3 million hours of service through or for a nonprofit or community organization in 2010. Service also takes place informally when people work with neighbors on community issues. In 2010, more than 239,000 Iowans volunteered informally — approximately 10 percent of Iowa residents.

The Volunteering in America report also notes that from 2008-2010, on average, 37.9 percent of Iowans volunteer, they contribute 39.9 volunteer hours annually, and their combined service is worth $2 billion to their communities.

4-H Service-Learning and Volunteer Iowa: A Call to Service provide avenues for increasing volunteerism and expanding the definition of service, Levings said.

“Our 4-H youth development staff can train volunteers in your community in the IPARDC service-leaning model to help you begin community service projects in which youth and adults work together. Just contact your ISU Extension and Outreach county office to get started,” Levings said.

To learn more about Volunteer Iowa: A Call to Service, visit www.volunteeriowa.org.