Does Service Work? Lessons from the ServiceWorks Program

Points of Light’s ServiceWorks program engages thousands of disadvantaged teenagers and young adults across the United States. The participants, known as “Scholars,” participate in a series of about five educational modules designed to enhance their skills for work and higher education. They receive support from AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America), other adult volunteers, and/or professional program staff and teachers. They conduct community service projects, including a capstone project that they choose and design.

This spring, I conducted an evaluation of ServiceWorks based on original interviews and close review of the program’s documents and data. The evaluation has now been published. (Click “Does Service Work?” to read it.)

Key Findings

  • “The program’s design is consistent with previous research that shows that giving disadvantaged youth opportunities to serve their communities also strengthens skills, habits, and dispositions that help them in school, college and careers.”
    “Numerous former participants report highly concrete bene?ts, from attending college to obtaining speci?c jobs. They also describe subtler shifts in their core values and expectations.”
  • “The meetings and events that occur through ServiceWorks feel to many participants like islands of purposive, constructive, and focused work amid chaos and dysfunction that prevails elsewhere in their schools and neighborhoods.”

Lessons Learned

  • During ServiceWorks, “the students identified public policies as a cause of the problem, but their service project addressed students’ empathy, not policy. … Since ServiceWorks Scholars understand the relevance of policy, it may be worth drawing on some of the experiences of Action Civics.”
  • “Many Scholars’ service projects involved elements of communications or awareness-raising: Scholars organized or produced school assemblies, videos, murals, and forums for invited speakers. … Since youth have considerable power as communicators, and since effective communication requires skills that are highly relevant to the 21st century workplace, it may be worth focusing more attention on communications.”

There’s much more in the Executive Brief by Points of Light or my Full Report.

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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