My Civic Life Program Offers Volunteer Service Opportunities to Youth
Youth Volunteer Corps Clubs in 17 Cenla high schools
A new program funded by The Rapides Foundation and administered through its Community Development Works program is providing Central Louisiana students volunteer service opportunities so that they will become engaged in their communities and make volunteerism a lifelong habit.
My Civic Life is an evidence-based civic engagement and service learning program for high school students. The Rapides Foundation, through CDW, launched a pilot of My Civic Life in 20 schools in the spring. Beginning with the 2017-18 school year, the program is now in 17 schools in five Central Louisiana school districts.
My Civic Life is a component of the Foundation’s Community Development Initiative, an initiative under the Healthy Communities priority area that supports leadership and nonprofit development, and increased civic engagement. CDW offers training and leadership programs that provide nonprofits and individuals with tools and resources to support citizen-led community development efforts. The recent addition of My Civic Life is intended to reach younger people with the ultimate goal of cultivating future community leaders.
“CDW already had expertise in working with adults. What this new program presents is an opportunity to educate youth about their role in the community so they can set goals for greater involvement during high school and beyond,” said Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation. “This program also gives nonprofits an opportunity to show young people what their role could be in helping make their communities stronger.”
Under the program, students are selected to join school-based community service clubs, called Youth Volunteer Corps (YVC) Clubs, which perform service projects throughout the school year. Monthly meetings are led by CDW staff using the Youth Volunteer Corps club model. YVC is a nationally recognized community service nonprofit, and The Rapides Foundation is one of only two YVC affiliates from Louisiana. A teacher or other staff member at each participating school works with the club to coordinate activities and serves as the YVC School Liaison between the school and CDW.
Members of the Lakeview YVC Club meet with School Liaison Joan Buswell and Lakeview Principal William Hymes.
At meetings, members discuss community needs and plan service projects. As part of the project, CDW identifies and reaches out to nonprofits located near the high school so students will get a better sense of their own community and learn how they can help.
As an incentive, students who perform more than 80 hours of community service can earn a Community Service Diploma Endorsement through the Louisiana Department of Education. This endorsement shows potential employers the student’s work skills and commitment. YVC Club members average about 30 hours of volunteer service each year.
In addition to the school-level YVC Clubs, My Civic Life offers leadership development training for a Youth Advisory Board consisting of youth volunteers from throughout Central Louisiana YVC Clubs. To date, 23 Central Louisiana students serve on the Youth Advisory Board. In the summer, board members attended leadership development training led by national youth development and service learning experts from the National Youth Leadership Council. Members now meet online every other month.
Future plans for the My Civic Life project are to create an online platform that allows young people to search for volunteer opportunities in Central Louisiana. Nonprofits, in turn, will be able to use the website to describe their work and announce upcoming volunteer projects with the goal of connecting young people with nonprofit organizations.
During the YVC pilot, students logged more than 300 service hours volunteering in their communities. Projects included park and neighborhood cleanups, volunteering at children’s museums, cultural festivals and libraries; visiting senior citizens and disabled residents at nursing homes and rehab centers; holding canned food drives; collecting and donating hygiene kits for the homeless; and volunteering at a camp for low-income youth.
Ladarrion Winslow of Clarence, a senior at Lakeview Junior/Senior High School in Natchitoches Parish, joined the YVC Club last school year. He was one of 10 students chosen to participate. “I feel honored because it gives me a chance to help the community and to help others,” he said.
Ladarrion Winslow is a member of the Lakeview YVC Club.
Lakeview YVC Club School Liaison Joan Buswell, the school librarian, said she chose members based on several factors, such as academics, discipline, demographics and personality. “Basically, I wanted a well-rounded group representative of all the communities included in our student population,” she said. “We have students at various academic levels, outgoing students and others who are shy. I selected students whom I thought would benefit socially from being part of the group.”
So far, Lakeview YVC Club members are considering clothes drives, food drives and community cleanups for their service projects during this school year.
“I think YVC will teach the importance of volunteerism, leadership and community involvement and that they will remember their experiences when they become adults,” Buswell said. “I'm glad that they are offered the opportunity to participate in community service activities because I've heard students say they would like to give back and also be able to show their kind heart and willingness to help others.”
In Winn Parish, Dodson High School was one of the 20 schools chosen to pilot the YVC Club. School Liaison Jessica Staggs carefully selected five or six students to lead the club, and she has been pleased with their work.
“I identified kids who were not involved in other organizations, or who were involved but were overshadowed by other people. I looked for students that I felt had more potential to lead, who had the potential to be leaders but were too scared or shy … kids who would never raise their hand and say ‘I want to be a leader’ because of their self confidence.”
What she found were top-notch students who rose to the challenge and exceeded expectations. They quickly developed leadership skills and are excited about volunteer opportunities.
“They feel like they are family. They get to know each other and they get to do good things together. When you do good things for other people it makes you feel good about yourself and it makes them feel good as a group. They identify themselves for a good purpose. They have a purpose here,” she said.
Dodson YVC Club member Hannah Vines (left) and School Liaison Jessica Staggs gather items for a service project.
In the spring, the Dodson YVC Club held a food drive, worked an educational booth at the Louisiana Forest Festival in Winnfield, and promoted healthy lifestyles at a Community Color Run where color powder is thrown on runners as they cross through stations along the route. This year, club members are planning a canned food drive and are looking for needs in the community. “We want to publicize in our community that we are available for things that are purposeful,” Staggs said.
“My primary focus in being a teacher and loving these kids is helping them learn that they can change their reality, that they are worth more than they think they are worth and that they can become leaders whenever they didn’t think they were leaders,” she said. “They learned they can do all those things through the YVC.”
One of the program’s goals is to promote growth and leadership skills among young people. Staggs has seen it firsthand with her YVC members. “It’s amazing. They want to be involved everywhere now. They learned that they can be involved and they can excel.”
The Dodson club’s president is Hannah Vines, an 11th-grader who was one of the original students selected for the pilot last school year. Hannah said she was honored to be chosen and has grown as a leader because of her involvement in the YVC. Because of her involvement and dedication to YVC, Hannah was selected to be a member of the Youth Advisory Board.
“I’m really loving being in this club because I get to help others and I get to volunteer at different places, which is a really cool experience for me, and I get to meet new friends. It’s been a great experience for me and that’s what I like. I like to be able to help others and I like to do things for a lot of people,” she said. “The other thing that I enjoy about this club is I used to be afraid of public speaking. But now that I’m in YVC I can do that, I’ve gotten used to it and I’m happier. YVC just changed me as a person.”