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Growing Through Service: The Story of the Us Making It Happen Youth Summer of Service Program

Last fall, Center for Transforming Communities (CTC) provided grants to three Shalom Zones to help them implement projects to improve education in their neighborhoods. These were small grants, but we knew that even a small amount of resources in the hands of our Shalom Zone partners could have big impacts. All three participating Shalom Zones have wrapped up their projects, and this week we’ve been posting about their accomplishments. On Monday, we wrote about how the South Memphis Shalom Zone pulled together local resources to offer an ACT prep and college readiness program in their neighborhood. On Tuesday, we wrote about The Corners of Highland Heights and how the parents of the kids enrolled in their FirstWorks tutoring program came together to form a parenting support group. Today, read about the last of the three projects: The Us Making It Happen Shalom Zone Youth Summer of Service.

This summer, the Us Making It Happen Shalom Zone (UsMIH) decided to expand their youth enrichment program to include community service. They had two main goals for the summer. First, that through community service each child would discover that he or she has the power to make a positive difference. Second, that each child would grow in awareness that no matter one’s current situation (homelessness, poverty, or hunger), we are all part of one human family. This, in turn, might plant the seeds for the children to one day work for greater equity and social justice.

UsMIH youth and adult volunteers visit the McMerton Community Gardens

With a small grant from Center for Transforming Communities (CTC), the leaders of UsMIH organized six-weeks of community service opportunities for neighborhood youth, which included working in community gardens, preparing food for a homeless ministry, stocking the shelves at the Midsouth Food Bank, spending time with seniors, writing letters to military personnel deployed overseas – even attending a disaster preparedness seminar where they learned how to help their community prepare for and respond to natural disasters. At the end of each service opportunity, adult volunteers lead the youth in a discussion of what they had experienced and what they had learned.

This combination of action and reflection ensured that this service experience was also a deeply educational experience.

Youth and adult volunteers from UsMIH prep burritos at the Carpenter House homeless food ministry.

On one level, the community garden benefited from the youth pulling weeks and composting. On another level, the youth benefited through the opportunity to experience what it’s like to work together with others to maintain a shared space for everyone’s benefit – in essence, to experience community – while at the same time growing in their understanding of stewardship and ecology.

On one level, the homeless ministry benefited from the extra hands to help prepare and serve

food. On another level, the youth were given the opportunity to be with people who are often overlooked by our society, and in doing so experience our shared humanity.

Through over 180 hours of community service, the children grew in their awareness of the world around them. Enthusiastic about the summer experience, adult volunteers and youth are eager to continue their serving and learning throughout the school year.

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