The Hands4Hope Education Program is back to meeting in-person and on campuses for the 21/22 school year! Our 14 clubs kicked-off the program year by welcoming back continuing participants who joined while we were on Zoom, as well as youth who may be new to Hands4Hope - Youth Making A Difference.
The first step to truly engaging everyone is for the club participants to get-to-know each other. Each club's youth leadership team makes icebreakers, including creative name games, a priority on their meeting agendas. In addition, each club works on an incentive plan to help motivate regular attendance. “I’ve always noticed a difference between Hands4Hope meetings and clubs where importance isn't given to get-to-know-you activities. Hands4Hope participants are so comfortable sharing their ideas with the entire group, not just their immediate friends. Icebreakers create a friendly and positive environment in the room - one in which our youth feel free to speak up. A five minute icebreaker that gets everyone talking and smiling can change the trajectory of an entire meeting from awkward and unproductive to engaging and constructive,” said Mahee Haswani, President of The Oak Ridge Hands4Hope Empower Club.
Building a safe and inclusive environment is a priority for Hands4Hope staff and youth leaders. Ensuring participants get-to-know each other and encouraging everyone to bring their unique strengths, skills, and talents to the table is how we build a strong foundation for the creative and important work these clubs will do to support their community. In addition to ice breakers some clubs who started a few weeks earlier in the first quarter of the school year used the extra time to plan and host a teambuild. Simone Caruthers, the Ponderosa Hands4Hope Club President shared, “Starting the year off with our Caldor Cozy Drive really helped everyone to get settled in with the club. It gave our leadership team a chance to get used to leading meetings before we begin planning a project from scratch, and it was overall a great way to ease into things”.
As each club uses fun and creative ways to build an inclusive and collaborative environment, they are also beginning the process of the service-learning model Hands4Hope uses in the Education Program. Service-learning is an effective learning strategy that couples teaching and hands-on practice, where youth build skills to be socially responsible and civic minded through projects developed to fill unmet needs in their own communities.
The first quarter of the school year is dedicated to Investigation. During the Investigation phase, youth learn from our local partners, other non-profits and human service agencies, about the services they provide to the community and what important resources they are lacking in real time. After youth learn firsthand what is needed in their chosen area of need, Hands4Hope youth leaders teach their peers how to use critical thinking to identify and analyze the unmet needs and identify ways the club can help. Stay tuned as the school year progresses to see how each of our 14 clubs impact the community while building important life skills!