This fall, we have had the privilege and the pleasure of offering the Live Civilly Community Service Club for a second year at the Moorestown Upper Elementary School. This year we “maxed out” participation AGAIN and the group has been full of energy and ideas from day one! Beginning with an introduction and a brainstorming session, this energized group of 4th, 5th and 6th graders not only developed plans and ideas, but they implemented them and made a huge difference over the last 6 weeks. Our mantra is “people helping people helping people helping people…” which means, helping is contagious. And the more people help each other, the more things get accomplished.
Week 1 was a brainstorming exercise and was an amazing experience – as a parent and as a group leader, I witnessed the transformation of 27 individuals into 6 teams down to one large team the space of our first hour together. Our first discussion centered on community service and the need to develop empathy…or identify the common factors that bind us all together. The comments ranged from “working in a group helps you to be a team” to “we need to know about each other so we can work together better.” Sound like any professional development anyone has been to? Yeah – me too. The greatest thing about this discussion is that it was fueled by the group. The kids were coming up with these ideas – they were identifying a need for understanding – they were looking for common ground.
Seeking common ground brought them to their first project: Community Service Club Food Drive to benefit the Live Civilly/Moorestown Ministerium Food Pantry. This was tricky because the students had to find ways to raise food that wouldn’t conflict with other existing efforts and would target areas outside of their UES school community. So we asked the club members – where are other members of your community? How can you engage new people? How can you spread the word and encourage involvement? So 27 CSC members talked to their dance instructors, swim instructors, parents’ business colleagues, sports teams, religious institutions and more! Remember the Prell commercial from the 1970s? “You’ll tell two people and they’ll tell two people…and so on”… GUESS what happened?! More than 3,000 POUNDS of food was collected by this club. Students arrived at the food pantry for Week II with their donations and learned more about the food pantry – who it serves, why it needs
support and its importance in people’s lives. The overall result was an outreach effort that touched the lives of hundreds of people.
During Week III, the students selected to make dog toys for the American Welfare Association in Voorhees. In less than one hour, these 26 students cut, tied and braided more than 100 dog toys that will join animals in this local, no-kill shelter. Giving our furry friends a soft toy that accompanies them when they are adopted was a fun and interesting project. Working together in groups of three and four, students self-regulated and worked together to share responsibilities, teach each other how to braid and give each other a much needed break from cutting fabric! As
we supervised we watched the most amazing evolution… some students who had said, “I can’t – I don’t know how to
braid” were teaching others how to braid. And children who had not originally been overly enthusiastic about the project were competing to see how many they could get done before our hour was up!
Week IV was about cleaning up at the UES and helping to identify needs in our “micro-community.” Students talked to teachers, paras, the administration, the custodians, the lunch ladies and other students to identify needs within the school. They came back with a long list of projects that will become part of future sessions! And then, we went outside into the Live Civilly/UES Partnership Garden. What an amazing and fun afternoon! We pulled out tomato plants and cages, untangled cucumber vines from their trellises, harvested the last remaining vegetables from the summer crops and made the beds ready for winterization. Following their work in the garden we gathered the group and asked them to choose their next project. The energy continued to flow and brought us to the Live Civilly Community Service Club Book Drive to benefit CHOP in honor of Sean Fischel.
The book drive was a real test for the group. The Community Service Club has always been about empowering young people to make a change and engage. Live Civilly has helped to provide a forum, and a format, but it is up to the children to figure out how to make it happen. The book drive proved that they have the energy and ideas to make it work! Some children made posters – some children wrote and read morning announcements – some children talked to their classmates and their teachers. The donations came pouring in! We were so impressed with their independent efforts, Live Civilly decided to match donations that were made on Family Fun Night…and THEN, as the book fair was drawing to a close, the UES teachers used the money raised from their “Casual For A Cause” Friday for purchase additional books for this book drive! See…people helping people helping people helping people helping people…
The final day, Week 6, came to a close with the construction of Blessing Bags … if you are unfamiliar with Blessings Bags, they are two-gallon Ziploc bags that are filled with toiletries, energy bars, protein drinks, band aids and other personal care items, that are then donated to local shelters. Each individual gets a bag filled with the items chosen by our Community Service Club members…warm socks, hats, gloves, soap, toothbrushes… the Community Service Club was able to put together 27 bags that were taken by volunteers to Joseph’s House in Camden. A volunteer from Joseph’s House came to the CSC meeting and explained how this outreach shelter provides overnight and shower facilities for homeless individuals. Joseph’s House also provides mentoring and job placement opportunities for those who utilize the facility. Following the creation of the blessings bags, the volunteers delivered them to Joseph’s House… The result was mind blowing! In the words of the volunteer, “the people coming to the shelter for help were moved to tears, and were opening the bags like a child opening a Christmas stocking. They were so grateful some of them even wrote notes back.” Each CSC member brought 27 of one item… all 27 members chose something different… all 27 bags were filled to bursting! People working together to help others…individual small acts that together make a BIG difference.
The next session of the Live Civilly Community Service Club will kick off in February 2016. Between now and then there will be many opportunities for those interested in getting involved in our community! Check our volunteer page for “pop-up” community service projects, or live civilly volunteer opportunities at www.livecivilly.org. The “pop-ups” will be a series of “one-day wonders” in community service – from Environmental Elves to toy drives, to sandwich making to independent projects and more! It really IS all about people helping people helping people helping people.