There were many firsts at the 2014 National Service-Learning Conference. It was the first time for it to be held in our nation’s capital, the first time for a former Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O’Connor, in fact!) to speak at the conference and the first time for many of the Foundation’s guests to be in Washington, D.C.!
The National Service-Learning Conference, organized by the National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC), celebrated its 25th year and brought together over 1,300 youth and adults who serve their community in classrooms, neighborhoods and across the country and globe. Hundreds of workshops, on- and off-site service projects and many project showcases were offered for everyone to take part in. The sun was out, and the cherry blossoms were just about at their peak. The long winter made our timing perfect to view them! After a day of sightseeing by foot from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, our group of over 30 young adults and experienced leaders was eager to take it all in and share their perspectives.
Aside from sponsoring young adults from Shinnyo-en temple communities to attend the conference, this year the Foundation sponsored more of our grantees to lead workshops than we’ve ever had in the past. Two UC Berkeley Shinnyo Fellows presented a thought leader session on human trafficking and their work to educate their peers on the issue and to impact public policy through advocacy. As one of the first morning sessions of the conference, many were enthusiastic to attend, leaving standing room only! Afternoon workshops included one by long-time partners from the service-learning program at the Blake School. Their session called “Celebrate What’s Right with the World” asked participants to look at the world through a different lens in order not to get discouraged by the challenges we face. In a different room across the hall, Youth Community Service showcased service-learning curricula that can be a lifeline for failing students. They walked attendees through ways to help youth choose values and behaviors that express meaning and purpose.
Capping off Day One were two very different sessions. One was a panel discussion on city-wide collaborations, where groups from Redwood City, CA and White Plains, NY (both of which are home to Shinnyo-en temples) convened to discuss how they work in their respective cities to support youth and their families. Reverend Eitaro Hayashi, Board Member and Temple Manager in New York, facilitated the panel and kicked it off by asking each speaker about his or her first paid job. It was inspiring to hear that these nonprofit executive directors, researchers and teachers all had very humble beginnings! The other session was a unique opportunity for the Shinnyo-en LA Temple Manager, Reverend Jay Gibson, to engage in conversation with youth about his path through service. The stuffy conference room was not conducive to the reflective dialogue, so Rev. Gibson got everyone out of their seats and gathered outside in a courtyard, under the sun!
Day Two was another full one with a morning session led by a Shinnyo Fellow from George Mason University called “Counting Our Privileges.” Participants were given cups and asked to put a bead in their cup for every time a statement such as, “I am a white male” rang true for him/her. At the end of the activity, beads indicated the privilege in our lives and dialogue questions got participants thinking about how they can use their privileges to work for social equality and justice. Later that morning, the four George Mason Shinnyo Fellows, joined by their supervisor, Professor Elavie Ndura, held a workshop to share their individual projects that promote peace through service and intercultural dialogue.
Our last sponsored workshop was hosted by The School Fund, which is an online platform that allows users to crowdfund tuition for a student in a developing country. The two young presenters engaged participants in an activity that highlighted The School Fund‚Äôs journal feature where donors can correspond to students that receive the tuition.
What makes the conference such a success is its ability to bring like-minded people together and allow them to make connections one wouldn’t have made in his/her bubble of daily life. Our group wrapped up the conference with a reflective meeting for Shinnyo-en members to share what they experienced in those few short days. One of the young adults, Mika Segawa, also came as the Foundation’s intern. Mika just graduated from San Francisco State University with a degree in Political Science and Sociology, and a requirement of one of the last classes she took was to intern at a nonprofit organization. During her semester with the Foundation, she had a chance to learn about how we build relationships and work with grantees, and here is an excerpt of her reflection on the conference.
“The National Service-Learning Conference was a truly amazing opportunity where I was able to meet a diverse group of youth leaders and learn about their active work for community service. One of the best leadership development sessions I attended was “Celebrate What’s Right with the World” presented by The Blake School, and I was interested in attending the session as a student intern at the Foundation. This session allowed me to be aware of global issues and the challenges affecting us to change what’s wrong in our society. What I learned through this session truly inspired and motivated me to become an active youth leader and to nurture my self-confidence. . . What is important is that we step forward to work together for the community with compassion.
Through the NSLC, I had the privilege to meet other Shinnyo-en youth members from different temples in the United States. It was inspiring for me to learn about their active engagement and work as leaders in their temples. . . I believe the NSLC allowed the Shinnyo-en youth leaders to further develop their knowledge and skills necessary to take meaningful action in their communities.“
It’s not always easy to let go of daily responsibilities and commit to a five-day experience that isn’t necessarily in one’s backyard. Therefore, we were ecstatic that such a wonderful group of nine young Shinnyo-en members, representing all five US mainland temples, grabbed the opportunity to attend the conference this year.
With back-to-back workshops, networking opportunities, and conversations with new friends, there were many activities to deprive one of sleep over the few days at the conference. However, these Shinnyo-en members can testify that the commitment is not without its rewards. Some came not knowing what to expect at the conference and others needed nudging from the community at their temple to overcome that fear of uncertainty. However, they left feeling inspired and challenged to take on more responsibilities and leadership roles to make the world a better place. Life-long friendships were formed over the course of a few days and by meeting new people, many gained a more “other-centered” perspective, by identifying the differences in the lives of others and their own self-centered lives. The conference was also a springboard for some to reexamine and begin a serious journey to search for their own path to peace.
To current Shinnyo-en Youth Association members, we hope you will consider taking part in this wonderful experience and join us next year for the 26th Service-Learning Conference from April 8 – 11, 2015 in Washington, D.C.!
For more pictures, check out our photo gallery!