By KATHRYN HUBER
The LIFE Project (Lifeline to Independence For the Elderly) is a major collaborative effort between the American Red Cross Greater Buffalo Chapter and over ten community organizations. It is a pilot program in its first stages. This program allows senior citizens ages sixty and above to remain in their homes. Volunteer teams of youth and adult mentors provide in-home services, including snow removal, routine home maintenance, home safety checks, and friendly visiting. Elderly people are able to maintain their independence by living at home, and the volunteers are able to build lasting relationships and provide service to their community.
The LIFE Project is a great way to maintain relationships between youth and the elderly, two groups that may not have many interactions on a regular basis. The LIFE Project also hopes to give different generations a chance to learn from each other and build relationships, providing a win-win situation for all. Volunteers gain the satisfaction of helping someone and the seniors are grateful because they gain much needed help with day-to-day tasks.
The LIFE Project’s main service target area is Buffalo’s Lower West Side. The area is a highly diverse community with a high number of immigrants and over fifty different languages spoken. It is also a very high crime and gang area. Grover Cleveland High School is in the Lower West Side and has a very negative reputation. It is viewed as a troubled school with only “bad” kids. However, when the LIFE Project was presented to all of the area high school principals, the principal of Grover Cleveland jumped at the opportunity to become involved. Despite their reputation, he knew his students would be able and willing to help. And they are! The students formed an after school club, called “Grover’s Finest Youth,” whose main goal is service through the LIFE Project. Sixty-six students from Grover Cleveland are involved and they assist more than fifty percent of the total number of clients who have been served through the LIFE Project thus far.
I was hired by Erie 1 BOCES to provide service-learning support to the LIFE Project. Before I was hired, I had never heard of service-learning, so needless to day, I really had no idea what I was doing. This was very ironic, because my title is Service-Learning Specialist. I spent the first few weeks reading and learning as much as I could. Because the LIFE Project was a pilot project we were more concerned with getting the actual service started and all of the logistics worked out than we were with the learning part. This made my job relatively easy, as I had to do more organizing than service-learning.
However, as we figured out the service part, I knew I had to start implementing more service-learning and working with the school teachers. I also had to write a curriculum guide for new teachers wanting to become involved in the project, and I had no idea how to do it. This was about the same time I heard about Community Works Institute’s Service-Learning course being offered in Vermont. It was perfect timing!
CWI’s Institute on Place Based Service-Learning helped me tremendously in trying to implement the service-learning aspect of the LIFE Project, as well as trying to write the curriculum. I was also able to become more familiar with the terminology and basic strategies. Before attending the Institute, I was doing bits and pieces of service-learning here and there, but not pulling it all together. While in Vermont, I was able to step back from the project for a few days and look at it from a different angle. By being submersed in service-learning, I was able to learn more and feel more comfortable applying what I learned. It was especially helpful to use the Best Practices for Service-Learning while in the classroom with the support of other students and teachers. It helped to validate what I know and the work I am doing.
The biggest way that the Institute helped me was in having to actually create an Instructional Plan. I don’t have to worry about trying to decide which standards I am going to address, how I am going to evaluate the project or what methods will be used for reflection, because it’s already done now. I can focus my energy on implementing what I planned and giving more time to the students. I also have the time to have the students more involved in the training process and how the LIFE Project will fit into their club. I am very thankful for the opportunity to attend CWI’s Institute.
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