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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Thinking Big by Starting Small: Student Service-Learning & Civic Action

Anyone who has volunteered or been a part of a fundraiser knows that you get back so much more than what you give. And, while this applies to people of all ages, youth definitely benefit the most.

Today, many students begin volunteering or fundraising for charities at a young age, often teaming up with their schools, sports teams, or community organizations in order to support a charitable cause.

Students celebrate their accomplishments at WE Day UN.
Service-learning programs educate students on a variety of social issues, while also developing skills in critical thinking, communication, leadership, and empathy.  Many programs encourage students to discuss issues that are important to them, and, as a team, engage in the issue through various activities. By connecting service to the classroom, students are able to reinforce their academic knowledge through real-life applications. It also allows young people to become aware of larger issues and begin making decisions on what they feel is important to them. 

Student civic action is another form of service-learning, which highlights the organizational structures that surround charitable giving and philanthropy.  Engaging in philanthropy from an early age allows young people to learn what it takes to make a charity work. Students learn the struggles of gaining funding for a cause, efficient management practices, and of course, best practices of the sector as a whole.

Programs that center around civic engagement are excellent learning experiences and provide a variety of opportunities for students to expand their knowledge and gain life-skills. But, in my experience, the most important lesson students learn is that they can make a difference. Students learn that their choices matter, and that they can make the world a better place for everyone. One organization that understands just how important it is to teach young people these lessons and make them passionate about being changemakers is WE, an international charity and educational partner. 

One of WE Charity’s main programs, WE Schools, has created experiential service-learning programs that engage young people and empowers them with the skills, knowledge, and motivation to bring positive change. Through involvement in the WE Schools program, students are then able to earn attendance to WE Day, a day to celebrate all the work students accomplish in the program. 
Charity Navigator and WE staff at WE Day UN.

I was lucky enough to recently attend WE Day UN in New York City and join passionate school-age children from 12 public school districts in the tri-state area. We celebrated the impact of their student service - coinciding with the meeting of the UN General Assembly and specific segments with UN Women, UNAIDS, and UN Global Compact. 

The day was centered around the hard work of everyone who participated with the WE Schools program. In the 2018-2019 school year, students from the Tri-State area, alongside their WE Schools peers and teachers across America. The students collectively volunteered over 6.8 million hours and raised millions of dollars in support of more than 2,580 local and global causes or charities- an amazing feat that deserved an equally amazing ceremony.

In between dancing in their chairs, and cheering at the top of their lungs, the students were presented with a diverse cast of artist performances, celebrity appearances, social media stars, youth from their local community and professionals from within the nonprofit world. Each presenter entered the arena with a unique set of accomplishments and causes they were passionate about. But, regardless of who was on the stage, the message was the same: we are all capable of creating change. 

Service-learning and student philanthropy programs are an amazing way to engage a younger audience and set the foundations for a brighter future. And, for anyone who is skeptical about the impact that these programs can have, I suggest attending a WE Day near you.  

Written by Natasha Awari, Associate Program Analyst at Charity Navigator.

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