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How to launch a great service project

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DIEDRA LAIRD - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
9-year-old Morgan Tsui with Pumpkin, and Barrett, 2 of the puppies that inspired her to start a donation collection of pet supplies at her school. Diedra Laird - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com

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  • ‘Long Hair ’Cuz We Care’

    Miller Kinlin, a senior, and his brother Foster, a sophomore, have started a hair-donation sensation at their school, Providence Day.

    They were first inspired by their cousin, a survivor of lymphoblastic lymphoma who donated his hair to cancer patients who have lost theirs and encouraged other family members to do it.

    The Kinlins got permission from their head of school this January to grow out their hair, because boys’ hair is not allowed to touch their shirt collars at Providence Day. With the help of a teacher, Matt Scully, they spoke in front of the school and held an official sign-up (with parental permission).

    “Now we have a bunch of kids and faculty doing it,” Foster said. Participants wear “Long Hair ’Cuz We Care” rubber bracelets, and there are 21 people now in the program. “This blew past our expectations,” Miller said. About 71 inches have been donated to Locks of Love or Pantene Beautiful Lengths as a result.

    Growing out their hair was a long commitment (several months to a year), and adjusting to having to buy hair ties and getting made fun of at sports matches wasn’t always fun, they said.

    “It’s pretty rewarding once you’ve done it,” Foster said. “It’s not easy because it’s a lot of work.”


  • Proving Any1 Can make a difference

    Rachel Casale, a senior at the Academy of International Studies at Independence High, recently won the ABC Summer of Service Award.

    With that, she can designate how to spend $1,000, and she’s decided to use it toward empowering and inspiring other students to make a difference through Mothering Across Continents’ Any1 Can project.

    The president of the school’s Interact Club, Rachel has been a part of the Any1 Can project at Independence since she was a freshman.

    The project focuses on making students aware of global issues and ways to impact them, including ending poverty, stopping hunger, providing clean water, standing up for peace, promoting education, being green and teaching tolerance. Money raised from T-shirt painting events (which portrays one of those global issues) goes to South Sudan, where two schools and a well are being built.

    Elizabeth Peacock, with Mothering Across Continents, said the first school cost about $350,000, and that area students were responsible for about $70,000 of that.

    “I want to make other students globally aware, tell them they can make a difference no matter how small they think they are,” Rachel said. “I want to try to give them a way to have confidence in themselves to say, ‘I can make a difference.’”


  • A puppy plan, through PowerPoint

    Morgan Tsui, 9, was recently searching online for a current event to write about for her social studies class.

    While surfing the Web, she discovered a need in her community through the Carolina P.A.W.S. website. (“I didn’t want to use it on my project though, because it wasn’t on CNN or Fox.”)

    She found the shelter had taken in eight starving, abandoned puppies (one had already died), and it needed help in covering their medical costs.

    Morgan, an animal lover and fifth-grader at J.V. Washam Elementary, had previously volunteered there and knew she wanted to help.

    She presented a 10-slide PowerPoint to her principal, Rachel Williams, that showed the puppies’ point of view, their situation, information about Carolina P.A.W.S., why students should help and her strategy.

    After discussing it with Williams, Morgan adjusted her focus and decided to hold a donation drive of pet supplies for the shelter. After exchanging emails, Morgan got a list of needed items from the shelter.

    She publicized the drive on the school’s morning announcements and decorated four dog-shaped buckets to collect items around the school.

    “This truly came from the heart,” Williams said. “She thought of every detail.”


  • A selfless birthday tradition

    CJ Ciuca’s birthday, August 25, often falls on the first day of school. And since kindergarten, he hasn’t been receiving gifts, but he collects school supplies for children in need in lieu of presents.

    CJ is now in the seventh grade at J.M. Alexander Middle.

    The tradition began eight years ago when CJ was with his mother, Lori, shopping for his own school supplies.

    “He said, ‘Mommy, what about kids who don’t get to buy supplies. Can I get some for them?’” his mother recalls.

    Over the years, donations have grown. This year, he collected about 600 items, including markers, glue sticks, backpacks, pencils, rulers and notebooks.

    “It’s actually pretty fun, because I get to know that I’m helping out the kids in my neighborhood and all around CMS that don’t have enough money to fund their school supplies,” he said.

    CJ often donates the supplies to Classroom Central, which serves six area school districts. To get the word out, he has friends at a printing store print free fliers that he delivers all over his neighborhood the week before his birthday.

    “I like to make a difference in my community.”



You want to help. You just don’t know how.

Or maybe you’re faced with filling community service hours required by your school or organization – but it sounds so boring, because you haven’t found something you care about.

Here’s help. But first, here’s why you should care.

“I don’t think it’s important, I think it’s crucial, because in being of service to others, we understand the interconnectedness of all human beings and all creation,” said the Rev. Burl Salmon, a seventh-grade teacher and the middle school chaplain at Trinity Episcopal.

Youth also find that helping others often helps themselves.

“It’s more than community service, it’s trying to build local, national and global leaders,” said Sally Daley, CEO of the Charlotte-area Girl Scouts Hornets’ Nest Council.

Dana Carpenter, operations director for the seven area sites of the Boys & Girls Club, said serving others helps young people learn important life skills and become more engaged citizens.

“It’s very empowering to kids to know they can be a positive force and they can accomplish goals,” she said.

So how do you start, if you haven’t – or get better, if you have? Here are experts’ tips.

Find a passion and a problem

Coming up with an idea for a service project can seem overwhelming. Experts recommend starting with a personal passion, then asking questions.

“Ask, ‘What’s going on? What are the issues in my community?’” said Melanie Miller, vice president of membership services for the Girl Scouts Hornets’ Nest Council. She works with Girls Scouts who are earning their Gold Award, the highest Girl Scouts honor, which generally takes at least 80 hours to complete.

Miller recommended community-mapping your own area, which looks precisely at the locations of groups, stores and neighborhoods to get a stronger sense of the community and where it might have needs. “It makes them sit and think about what’s truly surrounding them in their community,” she said of the Girl Scout practice. “A lot of times they don’t like it, but it does help.”

Miller said sometimes people know what topic interests them – children, animals and the military are the most popular she sees – but don’t know where to start. “It makes it easier to pinpoint a project by contacting groups of people associated with that topic.”

If you look hard enough, Charlotte offers hundreds of service options, said Julie Rizzo, the Levine Jewish Community Center’s director of development and social action.

“It’s not necessarily ‘work,’ but if people took the time to spend 15 to 20 minutes on this wonderful thing we have called the Internet, they could find those opportunities, because they are there,” she said.

To get pointed in the right direction, Salmon suggested contacting groups such as the United Way or a faith community such as a church or synagogue for ideas.

“Where needs you?” he asked. “You have a gift where you can use the gifts you’ve been given for the best outcome.”

Pick something appropriate

It’s OK to start small, Carpenter said.

She recommended looking around at the people you’re in contact with every day – helping younger kids with homework or, at the Boys & Girls Club, assisting the staff with different tasks as a “junior staff” member.

“They need to start where they are. As they get older, they can branch out,” she said.

Salmon, who often plans off-campus service trips for middle school students, said it’s important to keep limitations in mind and choose projects that are age-appropriate.

“Don’t do something that would be so overwhelming for a sixth-grader, like a drug and alcohol rehabilitiation center. That’s pretty heavy for a sixth-grader. But it is more development-appropriate the older you go,” he said.

Rizzo said she often gets calls about service opportunities for younger children, and that many organizations’ age restrictions can be limiting. One fun option for youngsters, she said, is gleaning at a local farm.

For vs. with

Miller said doing projects for the community are great, but going deeper and working with the community to make a difference has more impact.

An example: You could donate cans to a food pantry for the community. Or you could do something that addresses why people are hungry or why there isn’t enough food on the table to work with a neighborhood – like building a community garden.

Salmon said forming a positive relationship with the people you’re serving creates a better experience than being detached.

“Doing service without a relationship is resisting an investment,” he said. “To be in service is giving of yourself, and part of oneself is one’s emotional involvement.”

Get organized

Successful projects should start with forethought, experts said.

Miller recommends several steps to get organized with a service project:

• Make a budget for time, money and other resources.

• Outline an action plan.

• Create a time line.

• Build a team.

She said communication is key.

“If you’re holding an event, don’t wait till the week before and say, ‘Oh gosh, I need 25 people this weekend.’”

Carpenter said Boys & Girls Club members learn how to run meetings and set schedules for projects.

“The planning process is something they’ll be able to take with them their entire life,” she said.

If you have to present or pitch your project to an adult for help, you’re more likely to get that help if you offer organized information.

For example, one of the highlighted Young Achievers on this page, Morgan Tsui, got her principal’s support and approval for a project by showing her a PowerPoint. Her presentation showed a problem, how to fix it, why it was important and the benefits of doing the project.

Find a mentor

Having an adult in your corner can make the project run a lot more smoothly, and the guidance can make your work even better.

The Girl Scouts believe so much in mentorship that scouts earning their Gold Award have two mentors: one from Girl Scouts and one in the field of their project.

Daley said adult mentorship is a key to success in service projects as well as in other aspects of life.

“It’s best to talk to someone at the beginning, so they understand your project and what kind of help you need, instead of a last-minute, frantic plea in the middle of a project,” she said.

One of the Young Achievers here, Foster Kinlin, said a teacher helped him and his brother launch their project and have a greater impact. “If you’re trying to do something at your school, it’s very helpful to have an adviser-type of figure help with the logistical stuff.”

Ruebens: 704-358-5294
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