I spent last week on a weeklong choir/mission trip with 40 or so high-school and college students from my church, something I’ve been doing since 2000. During the week, our kids served in a homeless feeding program, built steps and porches for homes in an incredibly rundown trailer park, ran two vacation Bible school programs, and did a variety of landscaping and painting projects in a small Ohio community whose best days lie decades in the past.
Over the course of the trip, I thought a lot about which service projects we’ve done over the years have been the most transformational–both for our students and for the communities we were serving. Since service is obviously a huge part of Scouting, the lessons we’ve learned apply equally well to troop service projects.
In our ministry, we’ve decided that two factors are essential to transformational service:
1. To transform a community, you must work with an organization that has a clear vision and is moving in the right direction but still has plenty of need for volunteer help. Work with a rudderless organization, and you waste your time. Work with an organization that doesn’t really need your help and thus comes up with busy-work projects, and you waste both your time and their time.
2. To transform your Scouts, you must work directly with the people you are serving and/or alongside the partner organization’s dedicated volunteers. The relationships you and your Scouts build with these people adds a human element that makes service far more than just another activity to do or another box to check off on the way to advancement.
So what are your criteria for transformational service projects? What projects has your unit that had a major impact on both the people you served and on your Scouts themselves? The comments box is open.