A New Twist to Volunteering

A New Twist to Volunteering: Random Acts of Kindness Project
Posted on 05/07/2021
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photos of students giving notes to teachers, mail carriersDid you ever wonder why Lakota high school students volunteer with community organizations as part of their government classes? The 15 volunteer hours even comprise about 20% of a student’s quarterly grade.

“Volunteering is essential to civic-mindedness in our representative democracy,” said East government teacher Dr. Tisha Grote. “Volunteering is one’s responsibility (just like voting or working on a political campaign) and lends itself to the participatory democracy our Founders envisioned.” She said that not everyone can vote or work on a political campaign, but they do have the ability to give back to their community. 

West Social Studies Department Chair Diann Ricks agrees, adding that the volunteering component of the class also allows students to get out into the community and help meet the needs of those around them. “Students find out ways that they can get involved to help others and they often find something they are passionate about, which can help them determine their future career goals. It also allows them to see how organizations fill needs in society, when government organizations are unable to.”

When the pandemic hit last spring, Dr. Grote set out to replace those important volunteer hours with a project that met CDC social distancing and masking requirements. After scouring Facebook teacher sites, polling teachers and talking with the EDGE Teen Center, Dr. Grote compiled a list of great alternatives to in-person volunteering. This list became the Random Acts of Kindness (RAK) Project.

Both high schools are continuing to use the project this year as well, since many non-profit organizations are still not back to full volunteering capacity. 

Students are given flexibility to choose random acts of kindness to perform. These include writing notes to coaches, senior citizens, and first responders to leaving positive messages with sidewalk chalk.

“My favorite part of the RAKs has been seeing students get feedback from the ‘Chalk the Walk’ activity and the positive messages on painted rock activity,” said Dr. Grote. “Students are commenting that someone’s day has been lifted by finding one of these rocks or by a simple kind message chalked on a sidewalk or building entry.” 

As part of the project, students write a reflection essay and based on the excerpts below, they are seeing the value of giving back.

“The importance of this project is far greater than just a school project. It’s lifting others up in a time of need.” 

“After completing my acts of kindness, I really could see now much a little note can make someone’s whole day change. We don’t give back to the community enough as people. While doing this project, I see now that it is important to make your community, your family and friends all know your appreciation towards them and what they do.”

“The pandemic has been hard on everyone. Doing random acts of kindness was a great way to make an impact in the community in a safe way. Isolation is hard on everyone, but we can’t let it take away our sense of community.”

And those on the receiving end of the acts of kindness are truly impacted by the kindness shown by the students. Ricks said that some students have even gotten a thank you in return from their garbage collectors and mail carriers. Teachers receiving letters are moved by the sentiments shared by the students.

“This is so awesome and I am honored! I truly wasn’t sure if I was connecting with Nolan so to receive this note is touching and encouraging.”

“Thank you so very much for this!  It is so nice to hear that I make a difference…it is easy to get caught up in the daily grind of our job!”

Dr. Grote said that other school organizations are also using some of the RAKs from the list to spread kindness through their clubs and members. East’s Student Government is hosting a Hawk Time competition through the Freerice.com site. (It is an interactive vocabulary game where players donate grains of rice to the World Food Programme.) One Hawk Time class will win by logging the most vocabulary points and therefore, rice, to those in need.

While the RAK project has allowed students to reach out in new and different ways, Dr. Grote said that the 15 hours of volunteering will be back for the 2021-2022 school year. “Non-profit organizations are already reaching out and can’t wait to have student volunteers back in person!”