Youth Community Service is a 22 year old Palo Alto-based organization that focuses on the transformational impact of service learning for youth. Leif Erickson has been its Executive Director for nearly 9 years. He spoke about the different programs they have depending on the relationship with the particular schools–in some cases as an extracurricular “club” offering, and other cases their class is part of the school day.
YCS also works with “Continuation” schools, of non-traditional students such as teens raising a family or returning from a period of incarceration. He cited a study that showed average grade improvement from a “D” to a “B” for continuation students (moms, specifically, I think) that were receiving YCS support as one of a number of programs. It was important, he said, for the students to not just engage in isolated service projects, but to incorporate them into the rest of the learning curriculum. Students also need to build up to helping others. Many of the students don’t see what they have to give when the program starts. Working first on identifying values, skills, improving self-esteem means that the students are more secure and ready to help others.
In addition to a small staff managing the operations, the bulk of the YCS employees are teachers who work directly with students. Leif noted that many of the teachers who come up with creative ideas and earn the respect of the students are from the communities served by YCS, offering both a staff familiar with the challenges of the environment, as well as a group of role models that share more in common with the students.
YCS funding used to come primarily from government support, but as that has dried up recently, they have found corporate and family foundations to replace the funding, with individual donors also an important part of the equation. If you’d like to join me in supporting YCS, their donor page is at: http://www.youthcommunityservice.org/article.php?story=donationsgeneral
I missed their program on Lytton Plaza in Palo Alto today in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.