On December 12, 2012, myself and 10 of my middle school age leadership students assisted in a community service event to help those in need over the holidays.
The community event was Operation Holiday, which is sponsored by a local non-profit organization, called Inter Faith Ministries. According to the organizations web page, “Operation Holiday serves seniors, individuals and families living at or below the poverty level.”
“This year 6,843 adults and 6,625 children will receive assistance through Operation Holiday.”
What Kids Think
Our team worked a four hour shift on a Saturday morning at the event. We were assigned various duties from individually escorting recipients through the food, clothing and toys lines to working in the warehouse loading and unloading boxes.
After our shift, the students went through various motions as they discussed amongst themselves their experience as they waited for their parents or guardians to pick them up. The emotions ranged from being happy to help to being sad that so many people needed help. One student stated “I’m glad I was here; otherwise I would still just be in bed, or playing Xbox.“
As I overheard their conversation without any input, I thought what a great lesson plan that could be developed from this experience and shared with other leadership students who could not attend the event. When we discussed the event the next school day, those in attendance did not let me down, by sharing their experiences and encouraging others to participate in future community service events.
As I continue to work with our future leaders and whose generation will be the largest in the workforce by 2020, I believe it is important we teach and put our youth in positions to work and lead in the community.
Here are four reason youth should give back to their communities, which in return, helps develop their leadership skills:
1. Difficulties in Life Make You Stronger
Leaders know, mostly through experience, times can be tough. This can be in a form of taking on a new leadership role in an organization or to making unpopular decisions as the CEO that will affect many people.
As one student shared with me during a break that just a short year ago she experienced being in a food pantry line with her parents that were laid off from the aircraft industry. Her family, during those times, routinely struggled and accepted charitable gifts until the parents were able to get back on their feet.
She stated to me that the experience did not change her, but made her stronger. It has been my experience that when youth experience difficulties others may be going through, often more than not they can relate.
As leaders, we need strength during difficult times and understand that before you can succeed you must learn to fail and struggle.
2. Keep Investing in People
Great leaders know the importance of people and being in the people development business. Having youth think of others, or putting them in positions where they are not the focus allows them to avoid being self-serving.
When I think about investing in people, a powerful quote by the late leadership guru and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar, says is it best.
3. Giving Back Brings Rewards
When youth learn the importance of connecting to their communities it not only makes for a better person and student, but also a better citizen and a better American.
While providing this service to the community not one of the students complained or expected anything in return. One student during our classroom discussion had a difficult time expressing how he felt inside, but he did say what he felt was a good feeling. This feeling he had difficulty expressing was the intrinsic reward that was created from the inside out from his participation in helping others.
As leaders, parents, clergy, educators etc., creating those feeling with our youth now will create future rewards for us as we, in the very near future, will be dependent on this group of young men and women to lead this county.
4. Be Thankful
By being a part of this event and the classroom discussion, the main word that continued to surface was “thankful.” The second was “grateful.”
Leaders who have the ability to show gratitude and to be thankful have proven to change the way we think, how we treat each other, forced us to look at our short comings, and how this world operates.
As a leader, the best example for others to follow is the best example. Leaders with gracious and thankful hearts like Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, Gandhi, etc., will continue to change the world as their vision continues to come to fruition long after they have left this world. Our youth will continue these efforts as well as create visions of their own.
Having youth provide a service back to the communities they live, go to school, or church is a great way to establish a youth’s foundation of servant leadership.
Those who will continue to grow and develop their leadership skills will know the importance of community. Who knows maybe our future leaders will bring back that sense of community unity and your community being there for you at any given time instead of really coming together after a crisis or tragic event.
Let’s teach these lessons now while they are yet young at age and educate them on the importance of giving back to a community that will always be in need.
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During my teaching career, involving students in community service activities contributed immensely to the rewards of teaching. The students loved providing the services, even during long hours in cold weather, and interacting with people, especially senior citizens.
Thanks for the reminder of this value of Servant Leadership.
Greg, I enjoyed your article very much. Your community is very fortunate to have you among them and serving them, and I feel honored to share digital space with you.
In our community, I have a dream to build an organization that becomes self-sustaining and is repeatable in other communities. So many youth fall through the cracks – even the cracks intended to help troubled youth. It seems society would just throw these away. That makes me both very sad and determined.
The more I read articles by other leaders I am humbled and always learn something. I am also further motivated to keep on keeping on in my investment in understanding people toward solutions.
Those youth in our community that seems to be the most lost, have the most incredible potential to conquer, rise above, and contribute uniquely and significantly to humankind. How many teenagers victim of poverty and crime could have been the next Pulitzer or Nobel Price winner – or discovered the cure for cancer?
You helped re-stoke passion for my youth projects such as my Youth Empowerment Seminar. Thanks for your article!