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Monday, May 2, 2011

Creating a commitment to service

By Cielo Contreras
Development Manager

This New York Times article, “More College Graduates Take Public Service Jobs,” details the recent trend of college graduates choosing jobs in the nonprofit sector as corporate jobs are becoming scarce.

The article cites a few reasons for this development, including the millennial generation’s increased affinity toward service. It goes on to describe how recent graduates are learning about the variety of opportunities available in the nonprofit sector. Whether one majors in business, anthropology or engineering, there is something for everyone in the nonprofit world.

This got me thinking about the service-learning program component, Writing for the Community, as each DC SCORES team works on a project this spring to better their respective community.

As a team, the students explore their neighborhood, identify an issue, and develop and implement a project to help the community. The project is entirely student-led, with coaches taking a backseat and lending guidance as needed.

Like the nonprofit world, the service-learning process has something for everyone. A student who is good at math can be in charge of the budget while another student who is a good artist can be in charge of the posters advertising the project to the school. The entire process also develops useful real-life skills including how to write a letter, how to make a phone call to a local business, and how to make a convincing argument to garner support.

These skills and the long-term nature of the project are what differentiate service-learning from general community service. Our students are not merely doing something good, they are exploring their neighborhoods, developing solutions and, ultimately, creating change.

What’s perhaps most important about our service-learning component is that we are instilling a commitment to service at an early age. Because a student can participate in DC SCORES from the third through eighth grade, a participant can essentially work on six different projects for their community before they even start high school!

As we found out in an interview with former participant Tuan Nguyen, these good habits can really stick. As Tuan said, “The values of commitment, leadership, and teamwork definitely stuck with me, and service evolved from that. I have always been active in the community. When I graduated from DCPS, I set the record for number of community service hours.”

As they leave DC SCORES and move on to high school, college and their careers, if our alumni continue their public service – either as nonprofit workers or in their private lives — we have accomplished something truly great.

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