Service-learning for all: From Appalachia to US Virgin Islands

Published 11:29 am Monday, April 23, 2018

After a 2017 needs assessment with the Bell County Extension Council revealed that youth in the Appalachian area of Bell County need an opportunity to acquire life skills, leadership skills, value citizenship, and experience service-learning, the 4-H Junior Homemaker Club was born. This club, in its instructional design, represents a marriage of the core components of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service (UKCES) Family and Consumer Science (FCS) program and the UKCES 4-H Youth Development program.

4-H’ers were urged to look for a problem in their community, their country, or their world (perspectives inherent in the 4-H model, as demonstrated through the 4-H pledge that all club members take). In this manner, the youth were conducting their own needs assessment while seeking to set their own service-learning project goals.

Their first goal was to do a food drive for the homeless shelter across the street from the Bell County Extension Service Office, where the club meets. They successfully implemented a plan and completed their first goal.

For their second service learning project, the group looked outside of their local area. After seeing media coverage of the unyielding destruction that two major hurricanes had on the United States Virgin Islands (USVI), and hearing about their 4-H Agent’s personal connection to a St. Thomas resident, the club decided to reach out to those in need. Though St. Thomas is a world away from the Appalachian region of southeastern Kentucky, technology made it possible for the Kentucky 4-H’ers to communicate and reach out a helping hand to their fellow Americans.

The club connected with 4-H Agent Brandy Calvert’s lifelong friend and Pineville native, Jessica Howard, to get a list of needed resources. 4-H Junior Homemakers collected hundreds of hygiene and school supply items, with the help of Bell County Homemakers Clubs. The 4-H’ers got together for a “packing party,” organizing all of their donations into boxes and transporting them to the Post Office. The supplies were then shipped to the island and distributed to the St. Thomas youth. The 4-H Club’s donations were added to donations from all over the country and a large giveaway was held in St. Thomas. The 4-H Agent’s friend responded to the club with photos of youth who received the donated items at the giveaway.

For Appalachian youth, this service-learning project was a unique opportunity to make a connection to people who live on an island. It helped them to get a glimpse into a different culture and feel a connection to Americans who are much different than themselves.

When she received photos from St. Thomas, 9-year-old 4-H’er Jenna Baker said, “It makes me feel glad I could help. I feel like I have friends there now.”

4-H Junior Homemaker Club President Morgan Lawson had the following comments about the project, “It’s a small world and we are all connected. The smallest things can put smiles on other people’s faces.”

All club members reported that their service-learning project left them with a stronger connection to another part of the world, helped them to feel empathetic for people from another place and culture, and helped them to realize that it feels great to give back.

Through their USVI service-learning project, the club conducted a needs assessment, utilized technology to connect to a situation, set and completed goals, were exposed to logistical issues associated with delivering aid in times of emergency, and acquired leadership skills. Above all, the youth were inspired to be more empathetic and more culturally aware. They made good on their pledge to “give their hands to larger service,” hopefully creating the servant leaders of the future.

Brandy Calvert is the Bell County UK Extension agent for 4-H youth development.