January 18, 2018

The 5 ‘hows’ of Community Service

Dave Kelly - The 5 hows of community service

Students volunteering for a ‘drive-by’ community service project at APCA Serves

In a previous post, I discussed “The 5 whys of community service.” Now the questions that remains is HOW do you get students involved in service to others? Here are five ‘hows’ that have worked for me.

1) Implement a community service requirement for all campus organizations and leaders.

This includes the Emerging Leaders and Honors program participants, scholarship recipients, and SGA officers and senators, etc. This is pretty straight forward, but be prepared for push-back. Students will tell you they don’t have enough time to do community service, and that they are too busy with their leadership roles and other involvements. They may even use going to class as an excuse! Don’t buy it!

I was fortunate to work with a student in Circle K from Georgia Tech who showed me that academic success, leadership involvement, and community service did fit together. She was an honor student, involved in Circle K leadership (two years as chapter president, one year as District Governor) AND she worked for an engineering firm. During her last two years of school, she performed over 700 hours of community service while excelling in all other areas of her life. She was named as the Outstanding Chapter President in Georgia one year, and then Circle K International recognized her the next year as a Distinguished District Governor and the district won a Distinguished District Award for her year. She also received the Circle K International Service Recognition Award (for 250+ hours of service) each of those years. She was an exceptional student, a top student leader, and a true community servant. Come on, if she could do all of that, then anyone can perform 5-10 hours of service per semester.

2) Provide an incentive and reward system.

Some schools that I have spoken at have provided funding to reward organizations that are involved in community service. Others provide certificates, gift cards, and other ‘carrots’ to encourage students to be involved. My Building Leaders Through Service® program recognizes students who participate in and plan community service projects. I’ve also helped implement a nationwide system as the National Director of APCA Serves. I have found that the participants have grown as a result of their involvement and while they did not do it for recognition, they did appreciate that someone noticed.

3) List community service involvement on their co-curricular transcript.

Employers are always looking for an edge, something that sets one candidate apart from another. Give your students a leg up by showing their community service involvements on a co-curricular transcript. It is better than a resume because it has the gravitas of your institution. Also, the transcript may get more students involved because they know that they will get credit for the volunteer work they do.

4) Make community service easy!

There are a lot of great ways for students to be involved. Some projects take a lot of time and planning. These are valuable to the service learning process. But some students may need to be eased into community service through some simple involvements. One of my favorite things to suggest is for students to read to elementary school children—because I have done this for more than 15 years! You can go read a couple of story books to Kindergarten, first, or second graders and they love it! The teachers are grateful because they get a break and the college students are treated like rock stars because the children really look up to them.

Don’t make community service tough. Let your students get involved with already functioning projects or simple involvements. Another easy project is Pet Therapy. Students go to an animal shelter and play with dogs and cats there. It is great for the animals as they get exercise and love. This can be taken to another level by getting the students to take the animals to a nursing home or assisted living center. The residents love it because they get personal interaction from your students and at the same time they get to play with the animals!

Finally, check out these suggestions for ‘drive-by’ community service projects. They’re projects that are ready-made for students to jump right into, take only a few minutes, and provide solid impact. We do these a lot with APCA Serves and they really make a big impact on the local communities.

5) Create a student leadership position to oversee community service.

Don’t take this all on yourself. Create an executive board position for community service and have a student oversee this. Can’t fund it? That’s OK! Lots of students will take on leadership roles for the experience regardless of getting a stipend or compensation. I spent thousands of hours working on behalf of Circle K, SGA, the Theatre Department, and more, and never got a dime. But, what I got in return has been invaluable. I spoke for the Oakland University (Michigan) “Make A Difference Day” and the whole event had a volunteer student leadership committee. They did projects in the morning and I presented a leadership program in the afternoon. Everyone who was involved got a t-shirt and the campus was plastered with posters. Student leaders signed up all of the participants.

I have personally performed over 50,000 hours of community service. I tell you this not so you will be impressed with me, but understand how important I feel this is. I am a product of others who have served and I have a debt that I know I can never fully repay.

“We can change the world… By serving… One life at a time.” – Dave Kelly

About the Author: Dave "Gonzo" Kelly (64 Posts)

Dave Kelly is the leading authority on student leadership and community service on college campuses today. As a professional trainer, motivator, and servant leader, Dave is an expert on all aspects of running and leading campus organizations and developing the character of a servant leader. Dave has 20+ years training leaders and advisors from student government associations, campus activities boards and campus clubs of every kind on organizational leadership and community service projects. He has trained students and advisors at more than 150 different colleges and universities and is the national coordinator for the APCA Serves! Initiative by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.

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  1. Thank you, Katie, for adding your thoughts! Learning how to use your time effectively and determining your priorities is another benefit of the leadership skills students can develop by being involved in community service. You are also a great example of how doing community service while a student becomes a life long committment, as you have continued your involvement.

  2. I agree that one of the crutches students use is that there’s not enough time but there’s always time for community service.  I know this because I’m the student from Georgia Tech that Dave mentioned and trust me time was always at a premium but it’s about prioritizing.  Once you make time for important things the rest will just fall into place.  Countless times I’d stop studying or working on a project in college to go volunteer and it was always the nice break and energy booster I needed so I could return and finish the assignment. 

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