All projects, whether local or distant, should involve the following elements:
- Meet real needs. Service will be more meaningful to the young people if their efforts are clearly directed at meeting real community needs. In addition, communities can benefit from teens efforts, and young people will be viewed as a resource, rather than a problem, if they are seen as making an important contribution.
- Involve service-learning. Service-learning combines service to the community with adolescent learning in a way that benefits both the young person and the community.
- Provide opportunities for youth leadership. The chance to practice leadership skills is an important learning experience that can prepare youth to take initiative later in life.
- Provide training and supervision. Teens must be prepared for their service to enable them both to tie the experience to learning and have the requisite knowledge and skills to perform assigned tasks. Young people must be supervised much as other workers are supervised.
- Involve problem solving. Many service programs that have strong civic participation outcomes involve problem solving by the participants. A typical design engages youth in identifying community needs and then guides them through a process that enables them to consider a range of possible responses – including service, advocacy, and public education.
- Offer continuity and intensity. Episodic volunteering has not been shown to have the strong benefits of service-learning that is either ongoing (for a few hours each week) or intensive over a shorter period of time (such as full-time for several weeks). An intense experience also helps young people form bonds with one another and enhances their ability to experience transformative change.
- Encourage teamwork and skill building. Most real-life problem solving involves teams, not individuals working in isolation. Teamwork skills are essential to later success, as are other skills that can be promoted through service, including communication, leadership, and “soft” work skills (such as punctuality, diligence, appropriate dress and behavior, etc.).
- Celebrate success. A celebration of the completion of a project, especially one that includes recognition of the young people, is akin to a graduation ceremony and is important to any rite of passage.
- Be rooted in the Gospel message and our Catholic Social Teachings. All service experiences, no matter how large or small, simple or involved, should be rooted in our Baptismal call to service and community. There should always be the connection made to our Catholic Social Teachings, especially in terms of a respect for the human dignity of all people and the care of God's creation.
These program elements are widely adaptable to service opportunities that are suited to different regions, cultures, age groups, education levels, and issues. They are essential to ensuring that all young people who participate, whether they serve through their place of worship, school, or community group, benefit from the experience.
(Much of this article was taken and revised from "Summer of Service: A New American Rite of Passage" by Shirley Sagawa. It was published by Innovations in Civic Participation, Washington D.C., www.icicp.org)
Links to Youth Workcamp and Mission Organizations
Catholic Heart Workcamp
GROUP Catholic Workcamp
SHINE Catholic Work Camp
The Pines Catholic Camp
Young Neighbors in Action
... and don't forget about Mission Possible and F.I.S.H.Camp, two summertime service-learning experiences organized annually by parish youth ministers of the Diocese of Dallas!
Call the Dallas OY&YAM 214-379-2845 for current organizational contact information for either of these events.
Prayers for Those Involved in Mission Work
Boys and Youth Mission Trips
by Doc Newcomb with GROUP Workcamps
Girls and Youth Mission Trips
by Doc Newcomb with GROUP Workcamps
Mission Trip Prep
by Kevin Bidwell