It’s important that the service-learning project belongs to the participants and their community. Young people and community members should work together to identify community needs, plan service activities and evaluate the impact of the service-learning project. There are several key elements in an effective service learning program that engages the community.
- The initial task is to develop clearly articulated goals that can be achieved through a reasonable degree of effort.
- The project must be of real consequence to the community and be perceived by young people and community members as fulfilling a real need.
- School, youth organization and targeted community organizations and members should work closely together during the early stages of development. A task force may be assembled or community meetings held to determine the real needs of the community and form consensus about what projects may or may not be appropriate. It is very important to get community members involved and keep them informed at a very early stage because their later support will be of vital importance to the success or failure of the program.
- The final element involves the connection between the service-learning project and the community. One of the unique components of service-learning is the interconnection of community experience and academic learning.
Once community projects have been identified, community members, program administrators, educators and youth must develop a curriculum to address the specific needs of the projects. The success of a service-learning project depends heavily on the continuous connection between academic learning and real-world experience only possible by engaging the community.