Service. Volunteering. Giving back to the community. Merriam Webster defines service as “a helpful act.” According to the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS), one in three adults took time to volunteer in 2017. Current statistics about youth volunteering are more challenging to find. The benefits of community service and volunteering at any age can include building new skills, improving your own health, creating connections with your local community, and developing new relationships (CNCS).
The Group Tutorial II programs (Tuesday and Thursday) spend a significant amount of time participating in service projects throughout the year. These service experiences often organically weave themselves into our programs and offer youth Real Work opportunities where youth can make a visible difference for others. We see these as integral to helping youth develop strong relationships and recognize their connections to the community around them. Here are just a few of the ways that youth in the Group Tutorial II programs have given back to both Open Connections and the local community.
This year, Tuesday Group Tutorial II youth made several dips to serve at the Fall Family Festival as part of OC’s 40th anniversary celebration. Youth are always excited to have opportunities to work together in the kitchen to whip up delicious food. As a Facilitator, I appreciate these Real Work experiences that fulfill their wish to cook and give us a specific purpose and goal, while also helping the OC community.
Another annual Tuesday Group Tutorial II project is to make Kindness Rocks to add to OC’s Kindness Rock Garden. Perhaps you have seen this small collection of rocks as you walk from the parking lot to the Barn or Farmhouse. This project was started three years ago to help spread kindness and joy throughout our community. We take time each year on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving to create new Kindness Rocks to share with our community. If you haven’t heard about this project, I encourage you to learn more at www.thekindnessrocksproject.com.
You will often find Thursday Group Tutorial II youth working alongside youth in Group Tutorial III to beautify our campus as part of our Naturalist adventures. This year, our groups combined to disperse Seed Bombs—native wildflower seeds mixed with organic composting material—into our Wildflower Meadow. Our groups have taken a lead role in OC’s Wildflower Meadow project over the past year, including planting wildflower “plugs” on last year’s Comcast Cares Day. Youth in Thursday Group Tutorial II also helped to plant ironweed this fall to add more variety to our Wildflower Meadow. We plan to continue working on this project, to help expand this area along the top of the drive in the years to come.
Our group also looks for community service opportunities beyond the OC campus, reaching out to the local community to make a difference. Youth in Tuesday Group Tutorial II visit White Horse Village—a retirement community right up the road from OC—twice a year to spend time with elderly residents. We play games and enjoy singing and playing musical instruments alongside our neighbors. This is something youth look forward to each year. The staff at White Horse Village express the same sentiment from the residents, telling us that our visits brighten the days of the residents who live there. Watching youth create these meaningful connections with the elderly residents is inspiring.
Two years ago on our hike back to OC from White Horse Village we noticed that there was a significant amount of trash along the trail. We decided to add a Trail Clean-Up to this experience. We bring along trash bags and gloves and youth partner up, with one youth carrying a bag for trash and the other carrying a bag for recycling. When we are done, this small section of trail is left a little bit cleaner and we feel a huge sense of accomplishment.
This will be the third year that Thursday Group Tutorial II has worked alongside youth in Group Tutorial III to adopt a section of trail across the road from OC in Ridley Creek State Park. Our groups hike over to Ridley Creek twice a year to clear invasive plant species. We bring along garden clippers, loppers, and saws and talk about the invasive plant species that we will be working to remove and why it is important to remove them. These invasive species include multiflora rose, wild grapevine, and honeysuckle. We then tackle a specific section of our trail and work to clear these species. By the time we are done, there is a visible difference which is exciting to see. Many times as we are working, hikers will come through, thanking us for helping to maintain the trail. I love seeing youth check on areas they helped clear the previous season, perhaps even choosing to continue to clear these areas on subsequent visits to the park. We are all truly amazed and excited to see how much we can accomplish when 39 sets of hands work together!
By spending time giving back to Open Connections and the local community through Real Work opportunities, youth in Group Tutorial II programs see how their actions and efforts can make a difference for others and have a positive impact in their community. Perhaps these experiences will spark the desire to continue volunteering and helping others in the future. Everyone has the ability to make this world a better place.