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More Powerful Together

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Photo credit: NYLC, taken by Bruce Silcox

The 26th Annual National Service-Learning Conference in Washington D.C., organized by the National Youth Leadership Council of St. Paul, MN, convened over a thousand students, teachers and professionals in the service-learning field for learning, inspiration and sharing of challenges and successes. The theme of the conference, More Powerful Together, resonated with participants who come to the conference each year to re-energize and be among individuals striving to lift up the youth voice and better education methods through service learning.

This year, the Foundation supported three grantee groups, Ceres Community Project (Sebastopol, CA), White Plains Public Library and School District (White Plains, NY), and George Mason University (Fairfax, VA), to showcase their work and present workshops. We also brought a group of ten young adults, including high school students, from Shinnyo-en temples across the country.

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The conference started with the World Forum, where participants had a chance to hear from innovative youth and adult leaders from around the world who are addressing some of the most pressing global issues. After a full day of small breakout sessions, we rested well and started the next day exploring the National Monuments (with a side of spring chills and cloudy skies!)

Ceres Community Project - Sara, Shannon and Ashlyn

Ceres Community Project – Sara, Shannon and Ashlyn

The first day of workshops kicked off early with Ceres Community Project. Ceres is not your ordinary youth development organization. Ceres supports primarily low-income families coping with serious illnesses with home-delivered organic meals, nutrition education and caring support. All meals at Ceres are prepared by teens who volunteer in the Ceres organic garden and commercial kitchen. Teens learn to cook, and they gain the skills to be successful at school, develop leadership qualities and become change-makers in their community. Sara McCamant (Youth Program Manager and Garden Program Manager), Ashlyn and Shannon (both Ceres Teen Leaders) presented a workshop on Authentic Youth Engagement and highlighted how Ceres incorporates youth voice into almost every aspect of the organization. Ashlyn and Shannon shared powerful stories of their own transformative growth at Ceres and the way it’s shaped their lives.

Elliott, Nicholas, Brian and Jody representing the Global Ambassadors and White Plains

Elliott, Nicholas, Brian and Jody representing the Global Ambassadors and White Plains

The White Plains Public Library and School District collaborated on a workshop to share stories of their joint service-learning programs. Library, school, and high school student leaders collaborate on a year-long program of activities, including library tours, technology workshops, and community service projects that are increasing library participation, reinforcing learning, and engaging youth. The library and schools are natural collaborators as library programming fills gaps in after school and summer hours.
web 2Presenters Brian Kenney (Director of the White Plains Public Library) and Jody Kennedy (White Plains Middle School Teacher) were joined by two high school seniors, Nicholas and Elliott, who are part of the White Plains High School Global Ambassadors. Over the summer, Global Ambassadors ran a digital media class at the library, and they taught young students how to research a local or global topic and compose a story for a REACT (Respond, Educate, Act, Celebrate, Transform) news episode. Nicholas and Elliott showed workshop participants how simple creating a short news story could be. Using i-Pads, participants interviewed each other about the conference, and you can watch it here to get a glimpse of what went on!

 

Mainlehwon, Prof. Elavie and Sarah from George Mason University

Mainlehwon, Prof. Elavie and Sarah from George Mason University

The Shinnyo Fellowship at George Mason University is awarded to two students each year who develop and implement a direct-service project as well as support the work of a joint project between Mason and the University of Ngozi in Burundi, to lay foundation for a Peacebuilding Initiative. Professor Ndura and two current Shinnyo Fellows, Sarah Hinshaw and Mainlehwon Vonhm, presented on Intergroup Harmony through Service and Education, giving the audience an inspiring overview of their local service projects and initiatives in peacemaking-leadership in Burundi and Liberia.

Shinnyo-en Youth Association Participants

Shinnyo-en Youth Association Participants

Many of the Shinnyo-en youth came to the conference not knowing what to expect, but with a push from a leader at their temple, they grabbed the opportunity! It was a unique chance for them to connect with other Shinnyo-en youth from temples across the country as well as hear how young people are inspiring others to take action and care about their communities in small and big ways.

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The conference concluded with a Day of Service and a time for the Shinnyo-en youth to share reflections on their experience. They reminded us that we are all unique and have many ways in which we can touch the world. Questions like, “How do we let young people know that what they do matters?” and “How do we mobilize youth in service?” lingered. However, we hope the conference was a springboard for youth to seek answers applicable to their own home community.

Please check out the conference photos from the National Youth Leadership Council!