Virtual community service projects

Give back to the community while keeping a safe distance.

Two women pose with decorated potted plants
An adult advisor delivers youth-decorated potted plants to an assisted living facility following a virtual leadership and community service experience. Photo by John Eby, Southwestern Michigan College.

Engaging in community service helps youth achieve better outcomes. The Search Institute identifies service to the community as one of 40 key developmental assets in youth that “help young people grow up to be healthy, caring and responsible.” In the 2018 Update on Developmental Assets Among the U.S., the Search Institute found that 52% of youth reported serving in their community one hour or more per week. 

The Michigan 4-H Youth Development Guiding Principles also highlight the importance of youth community service, with the expectation that 4-H programs provide a space where “youth grow and contribute as active citizens through service and leadership.” While the world grapples with a pandemic forcing people to keep their distance from each other, youth community service opportunities may look different but are still an important part of youth development.

The first step of any community service project is to understand the need and how best to address it. Making assumptions about community, agency or individual needs could result in wasted effort, limited impact or in some cases actually cause undue harm to intended recipients. When a young person or youth group identifies an area in which they would like to contribute, it’s important to do some research. Think about the organizations already affecting change in your community and ask how you can help. Many organizations publish wish lists on their websites or would be happy to discuss youth project ideas. Due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, some organizations are not able to accept donations or are only accepting the most needed items during certain hours. 

Michigan State University Extension suggests the following lists of ideas for youth to consider when planning a community service project during a pandemic. This is not an exhaustive list. 

Projects that can be completed with materials at home are probably the most accessible for all youth. These project ideas require basic and minimal supplies. 

  • Baking homemade dog treats for animal shelters.
  • Writing letters to seniors or essential workers.
  • Creating artwork for seniors, nursing homes or hospitals.
  • Creating and displaying artwork for your community through sidewalk chalk, murals or yard signs.

Projects requiring special supplies are also possible. Service project organizers could provide families with a supply list or make arrangements to conduct a non-contact supply drop off. 

  • Assembling no-sew fleece tie blankets for local hospitals, women and children’s shelters or nursing homes. 
  • Sewing, cutting or ironing homemade masks for local schools or daycares.
  • Creating homemade dog or cat toys for shelters.
  • Painting garden markers or signs for community gardens.
  • Assembling learning or craft kits for youth that may be isolated at home.
  • Planting flowers or houseplants in containers for a local nursing facility.

Youth could organize a community or neighborhood donation drive to collect needed items for local service agencies. Work with youth to establish a non-contact drop off location. 

  • Food drive for food banks.
  • Hygiene drive for food banks or local service agencies.
  • Diaper/wipes drive for local baby closet.
  • Pet supplies drive for local animal shelter.
  • Children’s clothing/toys/books/diapers drive for local foster closet.
  • Hats/gloves/mittens/winter coat drive for local homeless shelters or schools.
  • Pop can tab drive for Ronald McDonald House.

Some service projects can be conducted entirely over the internet. These often require a device and a reliable internet connection.

  • Playing virtual card games or board games with seniors isolated in their homes or nursing facilities. 
  • Assisting a local nonprofit with social media awareness campaign or recording a video or testimonial to support their cause.
  • Reading to young people through a local playgroup or library. 
  • Tutoring younger students utilizing a remote meeting platform. 
  • Serving as a moderator or tech support for a virtual community meeting (even assisting your 4-H club or county 4-H council).

Some service projects must be conducted as a family unit, as they require travel to a designated location or require parental involvement.

  • Park or roadside cleanup
  • River/watershed cleanup
  • Adopt-A-Beach cleanup
  • Community garden cleanup
  • Planting trees
  • Raking leaves, cutting grass or shoveling snow for physically challenged neighbors.
  • Making phone calls to friends or neighbors who might be lonely.

Be sure to remember to connect with existing service organizations or efforts to support and contribute to their work, and to make sure your efforts are meaningful. Every community is different and may not have the same types of agencies. Here’s a list of the kinds of agencies youth may be able to partner with in their projects. 

  • Local animal shelter
  • Local women’s shelter or family shelter
  • Foster parent support group/agency
  • Schools
  • Community action agencies
  • Food banks/organizations serving community meals
  • Senior centers
  • Nursing or assisted living facilities
  • Single parent support groups
  • Hospitals/free clinics
  • Community gardens
  • Local conservation organizations
  • Department of Natural Resources/U.S. Forest Service/U.S. Park Service

For even more ideas, explore these resources:

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