Know the difference between youth community service and community service learning

Community service and community service learning for youth can often be mistaken for being the same. Learn how to tell the difference through definitions, examples, and resources.

Community service. Community service learning. Aren’t they the same thing? How do you know the difference? Where can I get some quick resources to help me identify which type of project or program I’m doing?

According to the Michigan 4-H website, community service is commonly defined as the voluntary action of an individual or a group of individuals without pay. Community service is an historical part of 4-H. Leaders and youth have traditionally worked together to address the needs of their community while striving to make a positive difference.

Community service learning encompasses community service, yet goes one step further. According to the National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, service learning is a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities.

It can be easy to tell the difference between the two. Community service is when youth act as participant volunteers of a project or program. A few examples include planting flowers at a local park, doing crafts with residents a retirement facility or participating in a beach clean-up. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County has organized a great resource called 366 Community Service Ideas that provides examples of many great community service ideas.

When youth are involved in service learning, they assist or lead in a process. That process often involves identify needs, researching how to address those needs and creating a project or program. Youth involved in service learning can also contribute to the process by planning, developing, presenting or evaluating the project or program. For example, students at a local middle school decide to hold a “hands-on science night” for other students, parents and teachers. They coordinate the event, plan what will be taught at the event, promote the event via local media and create post-event poster displays to hang in the school.

4-H provides several resources to help get service projects underway. Michigan State University Extension offers YEA-Youth Experiencing Action which is a community service learning guide. It targets youth ages 14-19 and can be facilitated by adult volunteers and/or older teen volunteers.

In addition, the topic of community service and community service learning will be explored at Kettunen Center, March 16-18, at the 4-H Environmental & Outdoor Education, Plant Science and Entomology Teen & Adult Volunteer Leader Workshop.

Resources for more information

Michigan 4-H Youth Development.  (March 22, 2011).  Community Service. Retrieved on February 13, 2012 from

Michigan 4-H Youth Development.  (March 22, 2011).  Youth Experiencing Action! A Community Service Learning Guide.  Retrieved on February 13, 2012 from

National Service-Learning Clearinghouse.  (Copyright 2012). What is Service-Learning? Retrieved on February 13, 2012 from

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Lancaster County.  (Copyright 2012).  4-H & Youth: 366  Community Service Ideas.  Retrieved on February 13, 2012 from

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