What If Wednesday: Planting the Seeds of Service


What If there is something we can do in our afterschool programs to help students look beyond themselves?

I am sure it is not a revelation to you when I say that kids are self-centered. You know this. You see it every day in your program. Honestly, it is part of the developmental process that kids go through as they grow up. Our hope is that they get through that phase and realize that life is bigger than they are.

One of the distinct benefits of afterschool programs is that we have opportunities to engage students in hands-on, experiential learning. Whether it is coding Ozobots, creating artwork, or learning about careers, the world of afterschool can (and should!) look very different from the regular school day classroom. When it comes to learning about serving others, and getting outside of yourself, afterschool is a perfect place for that.

Service learning as a term is relatively new and it can mean different things to different people. At its core, service learning is about students doing something for others with no expectation of anything in return. In the process, the students learn about themselves, others, and the community. Students can come to see that serving others not only helps those in need but it also does something positive within the one providing the service.

Thinking about service learning can be intimidating for some, but it doesn’t have to be. We don’t have to come up with a project that will affect the entire world. There are plenty of opportunities to serve right where we live. Here are a few ideas…

What If you look around the building where your program meets and see what needs to be done?

For younger students, it could be picking up trash around the outside of the building. For older students, it might be painting a wall or two. There is always something that can be done to help beautify a building. If you can’t think of anything, ask the building maintenance person. I am sure they would have an idea or two for you!

What If you ask your students where and how they might like to serve?

It is always good to bring youth voice into the planning process in our own programs. Students may see things that need to be done, but they don’t know how to address the issue. You could be the person to help them make a difference. Ask your students if there are any needs they are aware of in their school or community.

What If you contact some of your community leaders and ask if they have any service opportunities for your students?

Many communities rely on volunteers to take care of different areas of the city or town. When youth can step into some of these areas and contribute, it not only benefits the community, but it can also create a sense of ownership in the kids.

Monday, January 21st is the MLK National Day of Service. For most, it is a day off of school or work but it is an opportunity for us to be “on” when it comes to serving. Martin Luther King, Jr. himself once said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.” I have told people for years that, in working with students in afterschool programs, we are planting seeds in kids that may bloom much later in their lives. What If you plant the seed of serving others in your afterschool students? Who knows what changes may come about in your community, in your students, and in you!


For more information on the National Day of Service, visit https://www.nationalservice.gov/serve-your-community/mlk-day-service.




Brad Lademann
Afterschool Resource Coordinator
Missouri AfterSchool Network 

Brad Lademann is a dynamic youth speaker with 16 years of public speaking experience and 12 years of experience working with middle school and high school students. He has worked with teens in many capacities including teacher, youth pastor, coach, mentor, and afterschool program supervisor. He currently works with MASN as our Resource Coordinator and provides technical assistance to SAC and 21CCLC grantees.

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