Community Service As Experiential Learning
By Rev. Bill Ferguson
From elementary school through college, community service has become a staple in the academic world. One doesn’t have to think too hard to understand why. Community service connects. To serve means to interact with the people around us, whether by raking the yard of an elderly person, serving dinner to those less fortunate, or running a fundraiser.
Community service, by nature, is collaborative; it requires people to work together for a common goal. Our ability to relate to, work with, and enable others is fundamental to what it means to be human. Strengthening students in these areas is invaluable, and it could not be more important in a world that tends to dehumanize, polarize and isolate, particularly through social media.
"There is something fun about work when the context is serving others. It’s a win-win scenario where the recipient benefits in obvious ways, while the provider of the service benefits in ways that are not so obvious but just as important."
Community service is experiential learning. Involvement in community service becomes a part of us in ways that traditional classroom learning cannot. Ask a student what he did in algebra a year ago, and he’ll struggle to give you an answer. But ask someone what they did at Special Olympics last year, and they will recount it very easily. Why? Because experiencing the event has made it a part of the student. Community service applies all of the modalities for learning. We use our hands to perform the task and our mouths and ears to strategize how it will be done (not to mention the use of executive functioning). We witness the process and the end result. The whole thing is an experience: the sound of chopping vegetables, the smell of fresh air at a Special Olympics event, the feel of polar fleece while making blankets for the homeless and the chatter that accompanies it. It is all hands-on; it engages every aspect of our being so it becomes a part of who we are.
An Uplifting Experience for All
Finally, community service is like chicken soup—it’s good for the soul! There is an intangible goodness to community service that revives the spirit. My motto for community service is “Work Is Fun!” There is something fun about work when the context is serving others. It’s a win-win scenario where the recipient benefits in obvious ways, while the provider of the service benefits in ways that are not so obvious but just as important. Community service is uplifting to the spirit. It is rewarding because it is morally and fundamentally the right thing to do.
About the Author
Rev. Ferguson joined Landmark School in 1983. He left to attend seminary in 1987 and returned to Landmark in 1991. He began the chaplaincy in 1996 and the community service program around 2000.