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Change of Heart: School Service Days Catch On

by Rachel Ogorek

In October 2010, I began my first year of service as an AmeriCorps member with the Community Building Partnerships for Youth in Transition program in Denver, Colorado. I was placed with the YMCA of Metropolitan Denver in the Community Programs Branch at Bruce Randolph School and tasked with mentoring ten youth over the course of the year – a job I found both intimidating and exciting.

As the students got to know me, they became increasingly interested in my work. In their world, service was something that was mandatory and usually dealt as a punishment for bad behavior. It was evident they could not understand why I would give a year of my life to serve a community that was not my own.

I saw the students' interest in my work as an opportunity to show them the importance of giving to their community and taking responsibility for changing their understanding and beliefs about service. To accomplish this, I realized I not only needed to change the minds of the students, I also needed to change the mindset of the school. With this, I felt compelled to organize a school-wide community service day.

Securing the physical resources – food, transportation, and funding – for this service day was challenging enough. Convincing teachers to give up an extra day of instructional time and mobilizing students who had little interest in volunteerism was even more daunting. But on Friday, April 29, 2011 the first annual Students in Action Service Day was launched. Roughly 550 students, teachers, staff, AmeriCorps members, and community volunteers went out into the Denver Metro Area to complete a wide variety of service projects. That service day was the start of a revolution.

In April of this year, twelve other Denver schools joined Bruce Randolph in service, turning a school-wide service day into something city-wide. More than 4,000 people served with 25 organizations across Denver. For all of the challenges and adversity that stood in the way to make this service day a reality, this second event is proof that change is happening. As the end of my term with AmeriCorps is fast approaching, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on what service means to me. Creating opportunities for service changes the trajectory of communities by impacting individual lives.

One of the many students I have mentored this year, Rosalba Sandoval, skipped the first service day. This year, she had a change of heart and became one of the most selfless student leaders. She is a perfect example of what can happen when this mindset is changed. Rosalba had this to say, “Volunteering has introduced me to problems in my community and opened my eyes to the fact that we all must take responsibility in helping others. Several service projects have taught me to be more compassionate and have given me a desire to teach my fellow classmates to be part of positive community changes.”

Rachel Ogorek currently lives in Denver and will complete her AmeriCorps service at the end of August.

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