Youth Make a Difference through Reach Out Iowa

AMES, Iowa – Six Iowa communities were targeted when the Reach Out Iowa program began in 2009. Since then, youth groups in the Sioux City, Waterloo, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Winterset and Marshalltown areas have participated in many successful service learning initiatives through the program. A goal of the program is that adults in these communities see the value that hard working and creative youth can bring when addressing complex community issues.

“We set this up so that there was a good mix of urban and rural communities involved in the program,” said Marc Peterson, Reach Out Iowa coordinator and a 4-H urban program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. “These young people are reaching out to communities that have been negatively affected by floods and that are still in harsh economic times. Service learning programming provides these communities with valuable assets and assistance. Through the program, we have already helped more than 2,500 people.”

The Reach Out Iowa initiative uses service learning as a tool to help youth become involved in solving community problems. The goal of the program is to strengthen communities by empowering youth to step up and make a difference. Service learning involves more than traditional community service and has six components: conducting a community investigation, preparing for service, taking action, reflecting on experiences, demonstrating what was accomplished and celebrating success. The six components make up the IPARDC model, and youth have followed these steps as they complete their projects.

Youth and adults who want to become involved in the Reach Out Iowa program complete a service learning orientation and learn about the IPARDC model. The Corporation for National and Community Service funds Reach Out Iowa, which is being implemented in partnership with the Iowa Commission on Volunteer Service. The funding helps offset the direct costs of the service learning project including supplies, transportation costs, journals, reflection tools and staffing costs.

Reach Out Iowa isn’t just for 4-H’ers, Peterson said. Any group or club that works with young people, ages 12 to 17, is eligible for funding.

“This project confirms what we see in 4-H: When you give young people the opportunity to lead, they’ll step up and lead,” Peterson said. “These youth are showing their communities that they are valuable citizens with voices to be heard.”

Benefit to Youth and Communities

On May 9, 2011, more than 500 Marion High School students participated in “One Day in May,” a service learning project for the Marion community. Groups of students visited nursing homes, landscaped parks, created a walking path, gardened and painted bowls for a local project. The 15 students on the planning team learned how to develop a project and work within the constraints of a budget, through the IPARDC model. Community leaders witnessed the benefit of youth first-hand.

“We’re trying to showcase what youth can do in a community, and how they can make a difference,” Peterson said.

In July 2011, the Research Institute for Studies in Education (RISE) at Iowa State University reported that the Reach Out Iowa program has had a positive impact in participants’ lives. Civic knowledge, leadership skills, community attachment, community responsibility and perception of personal skills increased in youth as a result of the service learning projects.

Peterson explained that Reach Out Iowa’s long-term goal is to positively change community perceptions of youth. “We want community groups to involve young groups in decision making. We want young people to have a say in what happens in their communities,” he said.

The Reach Out Iowa program will continue until August 2012. For more information on how to get involved, contact Judy Levings at