Creating a Service Project - How to Get Started

July 12, 2023

Creating Your Service Project - How to Get Started

You did it - you integrated Project Heart into your classroom and you're now seeing how the experience has effected your students. You walked your students through a personal journey of discovery, showing them how their unique talents and passions can be used to make a positive impact in our world. These kids are ready to do something that allows them the opportunity to not only live out their newly created personal missions statements but also work together to make a difference. They're ready for a service project! But, wait, where do you even start?

Planning a service project for your students to engage in, as a small group or a class, can feel overwhelming and intimidating, especially when you are doing it for the first time. But don't worry! Local nonprofits in your communities are eager and willing to partner with you and your students on projects that help fill a real need they have while engaging kiddos in the joy of giving. Here are some steps to get started in crafting a philanthropic experience your students will not only enjoy participating in but will leave a lasting impact on their lives.

Creating Your Service Project - Elementary School Students

For educators working with elementary-aged students, you'll be a bit more involved in the planning and executing of the service project, but you can still provide your students the opportunity to exercise their newly formed philanthropy muscles and tap in to their individual talents and passions in a fun and collaborative way.

1. Choose 2-3 cause areas for students to vote on

Your kiddos now have a better understanding of what needs are around them. Now you can help them use their newfound knowledge by choosing a cause as a class. Think of easy, age-appropriate causes - animals, food insecurity, helping the elderly - and give them options to vote on.

2. Reach out to nonprofits

Now that your class has chosen which cause area they want to help, do a quick search for nonprofits in your area that work in that cause. The United Way is a great place to start if you need help finding an organization to connect with. Usually a quick email to the nonprofit's info email address will yield great results. Let them know what your students are up to and ask if they have easy projects that your class can support. Is a food or gear drive? Can your students make blankets for shelter animals? Sometimes organizations already have fun and easy projects ready to go, or can provide examples that they can share with you which means less planning on your part and it ensures your class' work is meaningful to the organization.  Invite them to come to your class to talk about their organization and what they do and what needs they have. 

4. Recruit help

Ask parent and community volunteers to come and help your class as they plan and carry out their service project. Depending on the project, adult volunteers can help with delivery of items, pick up materials and can just be an extra set of hands to help guide students through their project. 

5. Break the project down and assign tasks

We have a cause we're going to help and we know what organization we're going to support. Now we can get to the fun part - doing the project! Assign kiddos in teams specific tasks to help with the project. This will make their involvement more meaningful

6. Culminate and celebrate!

Hooray! Your students have completed their first service project using their time, talent and treasure to help a local nonprofit! What an achievement! Now that the project is finished, make the presentation fun and memorable. Invite the nonprofit back to your class to so that your students can present their donations, include your school community and then celebrate the incredible work your students did!

7. Make time to reflect

Carve out time after the celebration to reflect with your class on what you all achieved together. What was their favorite part? What was the most challenging? What would they do differently next time? How can they take what they learned and experienced and carry it with them into their homes and community? 

Tweaks for middle and high school students

For older students, put them in the driver's seat and let them take the lead. Break the class into smaller teams and let them work together to choose a cause or nonprofit to support and create a plan for how to best support that nonprofit. With your guidance, and approval of their projects, set them loose to bring it to life! Engage community and parent volunteers to help support students in their efforts and remain the guide on the side to answer questions and offer ideas when students get stuck. Ultimately, students should feel a sense of autonomy and accountability for the planning and execution of their project.

And don't forget to celebrate their learnings! Have students present on their team projects and share what they did, why they chose their cause or nonprofit and what they learned. Invite your school community, parents and other community members to come and learn about their achievements and celebrate their commitment to giving back in their unique ways. Make time to reflect on what the class achieved together and what learnings can be taken from everyone's experience.

You can do it!

Creating service projects can feel daunting at first, but once you do it, you'll want to help create more opportunities for your students to experience the joy of giving and use the knowledge and confidence they gained through Project Heart! Remember - the service project is more about helping your students put their newfound knowledge into action, and its okay if it isn't perfect. Simply by providing your students with the opportunity to use their time, talents and treasure in a meaningful way will have a profound impact on their confidence. And don't give up! Setting up projects can feel messy and crazy but with practice, you'll be an expert in no time!

You can find more tips and resources for service projects, connecting with nonprofits and more when you register to access Project Heart!