A Day of Service Through Service Learning
Every year, when the Service Learning office plans Greenhills’ annual Service Day, it tries to strike a fine balance. The day should allow students to follow their interests, but it’s also important to make sure no matter where a student’s interests lie, there’s an option for them that emphasizes service and allows them to make a difference in the world. So Service Day coordinators work to present a diverse array of offerings, allowing students to pick something they’re passionate about and do something that will be fun, while also working to make the world a better place.
“If we’ve made a difference and we feel more connected to each other after the day is done,” said Director of Service Learning Alyssa Friendly, “that’s a success.”
This year’s Service Day, thus, offered a broad range of activities, all tied to service learning and the theme of “home,” but approaching the idea in vastly different ways. Some students made fleece blankets or candles, which would become components for welcome kits being assembled for Afghan refugees resettling in Michigan. Some spent the day learning about the importance of bees and beekeeping to the planet. Some worked with HouseN2Home, an organization that uses donated furniture to furnish apartments for people leaving homeless shelters. One group conducted a Greenhills trash audit, examining Greenhills’ garbage for items that could have been recycled or otherwise disposed of. Another group participated in a slam poetry workshop with IN-Q, a renowned spoken word artist and the day’s keynote speaker
“We were a little bit worried that service day wouldn’t be as normal as other years, seeing that it would be harder to get off-campus things organized because of COVID,” said Anna Zell, a senior and student service leader. “But it ended up running really smoothly, and we were able to have several speakers come in, which was great.”
This year’s Service Day, of course, wasn’t quite ordinary. Usually, All-School Service Day takes place in the spring, while the day is separated between middle school and upper school in the fall. But this year, with some activities ruled out due to COVID restrictions, event organizers decided that it made more sense to simply hold a second All-School Service Day in the fall.
It was a decision borne out of necessity, but it also had some benefits. Usually, the fall and spring service days are separate projects. With the entire school attending both days, though, the Service Learning office saw an opportunity: they could connect the two days. They could devote the fall day to learning then put the learning into action in April, building a unified, full-year service project, as opposed to two separate one-day activities.
The Service Office saw the opportunity — so they seized it. The projects that began on Service Day will continue in the spring. One group, for instance, led by Zell and fellow Student Service Leader Rukmini Nallamothu, taught attendees to make toy insects out of recycled goods. In April, the students who attended that workshop will take trips to Detroit schools and teach that same activity to other students.
“This was a practice round for what they’ll be doing in April,” Zell said.
One key element of All-School Service Day is that, in addition to service learning, it’s also a communal experience. Workshops bring together students from different grades who might otherwise never interact, but also allows friends who might not share many classes to spend the day learning new skills together.
It’s also a chance to explore the idea that “service” can happen in unorthodox ways. Clearly, for instance, creating kits to welcome refugee families to Michigan is a form of service. But Zell argues that service is a broader concept. Service, she says, sometimes involves learning skills that one can put to use defending the defenseless and comforting the afflicted.
“Activism can be a big part of service work,” Zell said. “It doesn’t have to be what we often think of as ‘community service.’ Activism can be a big part of service, because it can help community members in a way that not all other forms of service do.”
That’s certainly how the Service Office thinks about IN-Q, who gave the day’s keynote presentation and also led a slam poetry workshop. Friendly first encountered his work several years ago, when the school used a piece he wrote and performed about the Parkland shooting as part of an anti-gun violence service day. When Service Day organizers went looking for performers who grappled with the idea of “home,” the day’s theme, he was one of the first names they found.
During IN-Q’s workshop, students created spoken word pieces; some performed them on stage, while others performed them for a partner. It wasn’t exactly a typical Service Day activity, but Friendly says that just because it’s not typical doesn’t mean the skills involved aren’t important.
“Can’t you create change through words?” she said. “That’s exactly what the IN-Q has been trying to do. Taking key social justice issues and writing about them and trying to create change that way. Isn’t that a type of service, if you’re defending those who are defenseless, and you can do it through the power of words?”
The end result of the day is a mix of skills gained and concrete projects delivered. Various workshop groups had assembled 50 welcome kits, more than 100 bags of toys that groups had sorted and prepared for donation, and hygiene kits to be donated in Detroit. Even though the day was more focused on learning, it did deliver all sorts of concrete service as well.
For students and organizers, though, the best part of the day was something else: it was that after a year lost to COVID, Service Day could happen at all.
“It went really well,” Zell said. “It was really nice to have one again, after we were off for a while.”
By James Schapiro, Communications and Athletics Information Coordinator