Underprivileged children. Bullying. Homelessness. Disabilities. Human Trafficking. These are all serious issues facing the Jacksonville community. These were the issues the HandsOn Jacksonville Youth Leadership Council selected as their focus areas leading up to Global Youth Service Day 2013. These were the issues a group of about 20 high-school-aged leaders in Jacksonville chose to confront, head-on.
Global Youth Service Day is an international campaign established in 1988 to engage youth in service, simultaneously, world-wide. The name is a bit of a misnomer, as GYSD spans an entire weekend each year, April 26 – 28, 2013 this year. According to their website, GYSD.org, over 1,800 projects engaged youth in service throughout the course of the weekend, including almost 600 projects outside of North America. Global Youth Service Day is led by Youth Service America, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., and coordinated by their designated lead agencies throughout the world. HandsOn Jacksonville is the official YSA lead agency in Northeast Florida.
In Jacksonville these projects don’t just engage youth in service; they are youth-driven and youth-created.
The HandsOn Jacksonville Youth Leadership Council is a group of 20-30 high school students who meet at least one Saturday each month throughout the school year. Members are guided by HandsOn Jacksonville staff through a program of personal leadership development tied closely to service learning. Throughout the year the YLC members learn about the nonprofit sector, community projects, and the value and costs of service. They engage community leaders to evaluate community needs and select their project areas, and develop large-scale service projects for GYSD.
These service projects are the culmination of the program, and are developed by these youth leaders to engage their peers in improving the community. They plan the projects. They create partnerships with other organizations to facilitate the projects. They fundraise for the projects. They recruit volunteers for the projects. They lead the projects. And, most importantly, they learn from these projects.
Global Youth Service Day kicked off Friday morning, April 26, at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. A group of youth leaders hosted an art therapy session with patients at the hospital. The children painted with blocks, played with water beads, made marble paintings, and made dot art. The HandsOn Jacksonville Youth Leadership Council partnered with the Museum of Contemporary Art, MOCA Jacksonville, for the program, and the projects were specifically chosen for their therapeutic value and potential to engage children of all ages and individuals with certain physical limitations.
The day’s service continued that afternoon as YLC members partnered with the Stanton College Preparatory School chapter of The National Honor Society to create gift bags for the children at Wolfson Children’s Hospital. The bags included coloring book pages, toys, trinkets, and personal notes of support from YLC members and students at Stanton.
That evening another group of YLC members gathered at the Oceanway Community Center to address an issue currently garnering a lot of attention in Jacksonville: bullying. Youth leaders engaged a group of more than 30 elementary-aged children in discussion and activities designed to discourage bullying and instruct bullying victims on methods for dealing with a bully. The program included a video presentation, guided discussion, storytelling, and arts and crafts. Students pledged not to bully and not to sit idly by while others are bullied. The presentation expressed messages of tolerance, self-confidence, nonviolence, and acceptance. Attendees completed crafts including “No Bully Bracelets,” painted anti-bullying superheroes, and made a pledge chain to display at the center before enjoying a pizza party.
Saturday morning, April 27, was an early start for many of the YLC members, as multiple projects occurred simultaneously throughout the city.
Some members of the YLC met at the home of a local veteran to weatherproof and seal an ADA wheelchair ramp recently installed on his home as part of another HandsOn Jacksonville program. They then traveled to the Northside Community Involvement Center to assist a HandsOn Jacksonville volunteer team in the construction of another wheelchair ramp.
Concurrently, downtown at Community Connections, another group of volunteers organized and led by YLC members were hard at work adopting a room at the facility. They decorated the room and provided a multitude of household necessities intended to make the dormitory-style apartment at the facility more welcoming to the residents. The family living in that room will be allowed to keep these items when they move to more-permanent housing.
The team also completed landscaping and beautification projects at the facility, and served a barbeque lunch to residents and their families.
The Global Youth Service Day projects came to a close that afternoon as another group of HandsOn Jacksonville youth leaders met with a group of volunteers at a Daniel residential facility here to distribute comfort kits – each containing hygiene items, a book, a toy, and other miscellaneous donations – to resident youth. The volunteers then played games with the residents, engaging them in a fun-filled afternoon of kickball, dodgeball, and peer camaraderie, followed by pizza and an informational session about the work of Daniel and issues facing youth in Jacksonville.
The HandsOn Jacksonville Youth Leadership Council’s Global Youth Service Day projects are completed for 2013, but the members hope their work will inspire others to become active and engage their community in service. The group is the subject of a documentary made by students at the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville scheduled to debut later this May.