Working with youth isn’t easy, especially when you are trying to engage them in something new to them. It is a challenge to have students show up on time for a program, much less become really engaged in the work we are doing.
So how do we do it? Well, mostly a lot of planning, hard work, and little bit of luck.
One of my favorite strategies is to partner up with a teacher, Service Learning Coach, or other community organization. This helps me get my foot in the door with recruitment but it also helps to see students and the programs I run as legitimate.
I also like to start programming off with a quick game for everyone to introduce themselves to each other; this also helps me learn everyone’s name. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Group Juggle: Students stand in a circle of about a dozen. The leader tosses the ball to one student who then passes it to another student. Each pass is accompanied by “Thank you X. Here you go, Y”. This continues until the ball reaches each student and returns to the leader. Repeat the same pattern (always throwing it to the same person & catching it from the same person). As it gets easier, the leader adds more balls to keep it challenging. [Source: CPS Service Learning Initiative]
Name Game: Everyone sits in a circle and says their name, with an adjective that they feel describes them and also begins with the same sound as their name, such as ‘Radiant Rachel’. Other variations include a food item such as ‘Anna Apple’or an animal such as ‘Casey Kangeroo.’ Sometimes I challenge everyone to go around the circle and introduce the person to their right.
Lastly, it is incredibly valuable to provide linkages between course work and the community service. Handing someone a bag of groceries becomes so much more when you understand the cultural, political, and economic injustices that have created a society where hunger is an everyday occurrence. This speaks to a much larger movement within the education and service learning communities to provide context and background for systems change. Youth are then challenged to see their service as more than just a fulfillment of a graduation requirement but something that is a part of their civic duty.
Sarah Cummings works at the MGR Foundation as a Program Coordinator for the CareTeam, a program dedicated to eliminating the effects of poverty through dynamic volunteerism and innovative programming, and WillPower, a improve theatre based sexual health program for high school freshman. A proud graduate of DePaul University and a life-long volunteer, she believes in the power of change through meaningful and sustained volunteer service. She writes about her personal life and life in Chicago at secondcityslicker.blogspot.com. Feel free to connect via Twitter @2ndcityslicker.