The term “Service Projects” usually connotes voluntary community service initiated by an academic class or group. Although offenders may be mandated to perform community service, and although service to the community can be performed by an individual alone, such service is not considered under this topic. Here we are talking about advantaged institutions and their people who decide to make a difference in a less advantaged community.
Service projects are important for a number of reasons.
All of us learn differently, have different learning styles. Some of us learn best through words—spoken or written; others through images, music or sounds. Some learn through abstract theories; other absorb information much better through practice. Many students say they learned more from a service project (or mission trip) than they did in a year of class. (Take time to go through our PPT Discussion on Learning Styles–link.)
Much learning can be highly theoretical. Service projects employ experiential learning. (What’s happening? How do we feel about it? What have we learned from it? What’s so important about that? And, what’s next, or how can that now be applied?) Service projects allow practice to be integrated with theory… and then applied back to better practice. Human growth demands practical experience and learning.
Teaching and learning can be highly individualistic. We need to learn and grow with others, in community. Service projects, when well done, demand group planning, processing and evaluation. Most of life demands group (families, businesses, churches and temples) learning and growth as well.
Academic institutions and churches can become highly insulated “unto themselves.” Service learning and service projects take academic or religious life out into the community—to test and to develop.
Leaving cell phone and tablet, cool clothes and fine car, food on demand and financial security to spend time with the needy, to share their lives in a soup kitchen, cleaning up a trashy lot or painting a home or church, helps one clarify a personal identity, strengthen core values, and develop strong character. It is a good thing to hear the stories of those less advantaged, to listen and learn from them, to let them lead in developing plans and setting goals, for all involved to collaborate on a common endeavor.
Service projects are meant to be a triangle of giving and receiving, receiving and giving. There are the sponsoring institution, the students or project servers, and the community that agrees to this collaborative arrangement. All have much to give and much to learn and receive. Theories or beliefs are tested, relationships are formed, a community heals and develops, and all parts learn and grow.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
Have you participated in a service project or mission trip? What did it do for you? If it was not the success you anticipated, how could it have been better planned, and what can you learn from its failure or disappointment?
How adequate is this article as an introduction to the idea of service projects? How was it helpful to you? What more would you like to learn? What would you add from your own experience and perspective?
How important are, and how do you see, service projects working in high schools and colleges, in secular and faith-based organizations or churches/temples?
Technological, urban, consumptive life can isolate and desensitize people from the needs of others and the common good. Service projects, if properly run, can bring communities together.
There is an increasing gap between the “haves and “have nots” of today’s societies. If service projects can be planned and constructed in a proper, long-term, truly collaborative manner, nations can be brought together for constructive progress.
Why service projects are not wanted or could not work in many places of the world, should be a challenge we all take on. For all people it is the hope of a “Beloved Community.” For people of faith, it is “the Kingdom.”
A rising generation wants to get for themselves, and also, to make a difference in the world. If they don’t get such opportunities, society may lapse into self-centeredness.