Making Connections to Make a Difference

Life is about making connections—real-world connections—that build networks and provide a solid foundation. Student council, NHS, and NJHS are the perfect venues for putting those underpinnings in place, and service learning is the perfect vehicle for getting the process started. Finding ways to reach out to the community is integral to success, but allowing community organizations to touch students’ lives is just as important. Building community within a community has lasting effects.

When considering where to put your time and effort, look at all the options, and try to reach as many groups as possible through networking and opening communication channels. Start at the beginning—your own student council organization or NHS/NJHS chapter. Use social media to keep people apprised of ongoing projects, events, and focus points. Students are cell phone dependent, so sending an instant mass text message using Remind.com will promptly jog recipients’ memories. Students, parents, and faculty can also receive those on-the-fly messages. Create a Quick Response (QR) code linked to your student council or NHS/NJHS Twitter account, and post it around the school. After events, take a quick moment to upload photos from pep rallies or other events to Instagram. Parents will be happy to keep up with what is happening on their Facebook accounts or the school’s webpage.

The Importance of Communication

Face-to-face communication is all-important in today’s world, and the bonus is that students get an opportunity to practice real life “people skills” with administration, faculty and staff, parents, local businesses, and government agencies in the course of conducting leadership activities. All activities that our student-led groups undertake must be approved by the school administration. In order to complete many of these activities, students dialog with our school’s leadership team, complete necessary paperwork with the help of administrative assistants, email and network with faculty members and class advisers who might be needed to facilitate activities, and work with the custodial staff. Everyone becomes part of the big picture when everyone is in the loop.

Parents can easily support and promote student council, NHS, and NJHS activities. However, touching base with your school community association, parent teacher association, and sports booster club allows for another level of cooperation. Parents who stay involved are not only willing and able to assist; they are enthusiastic, involved, and appreciative of being included. Keeping these organizations front and center almost guarantees that, when push comes to shove, they’ll have your back.

Community Relations

Service learning also extends to the community. Having a good relationship with local leaders enables their enterprises to succeed as well. For example, each year, in conjunction with local businesses, groups like the Police Athletic League and city/county recreation departments sponsor events to build local communities. Students who volunteer to help set up, work at stations, and clean up at these events ensure that these agencies will step up to support their schools when the need arises. Community members at these events who witness student leaders assisting local agencies are also more inclined to support school endeavors.

Beyond the immediate community, students can get involved in other arenas as well. Food packaging and food drives for county lunch programs and pantries teach important life lessons. Students see firsthand the impact of hunger in their own backyards, the means to address this issue, and the action required to meet the problem head on. Also consider partnering with civic organizations to foster strong community ties.

Making connections—but, more importantly, making a difference—has its rewards. As more and more networking occurs, that bridge made of personal relationships strengthens, benefiting both parties. Further, as students buy into the idea of charity, they become empowered and invigorated. They begin to see how partnering with groups to “do good” can also tie into fundraising efforts for the school. Students’ creativity is stoked and fundraising is no longer thought of as a hurdle. Instead, it becomes a goal to be sought after—a means to achieve an end.

A good place to start your fundraising endeavors is corporations. As part of their mission statement, many corporations include a philanthropic pledge in the form of matching monetary donations. Accessing the right department and touting your efforts can make the all the difference when it comes to fundraising success. However, students must also realize that they may need to roll up their collective sleeves and explore other avenues for fundraising as well. For example, our student council tapped into New Jersey’s Clean Communities Grant program. By literally rolling up their sleeves, donning orange vests and gloves, and cleaning up and recycling garbage from several roads in our town, they generated a net gain of $500.

Fundraising and community relations are two pieces of a very intricate puzzle that all organizations must solve. Both go hand in hand, and if approached correctly, can spell success for the group that sees the bigger picture. Both efforts enable students to expand their horizons and build their aspirations. Both will help build life skills that will carry them well into the 21st century. —

Kathleen A. Belli is a teacher of business education and student council adviser at Vernon Township High School in Vernon, NJ.

Sidebar: Dancing for the Kids

Learning the value of community service through a local partnership

As Kathleen Belli points out above, building connections with the community has its rewards. The power of doing good can really engage and invigorate students. Last summer, a Sioux City North High School student council leader came to Brenda Bush-Hanson with the idea of partnering with their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital to host the first high school dance marathon in northwest Iowa. Here’s how they pulled it off.

Planning Process

The student council members and I met with the Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) director and project manager two months prior to the scheduled event. The CMN staff informed us we had to put a committee together quickly to be ready in time. We developed the following action plan:

  • Obtain permission from your administration to host the event.
  • Set a date and decide the event length.
  • Organize a leadership committee. Our committee consisted of 10 student council members. Their positions were committee head, finance and sponsorship chairs, publicity chairs, catering chair, miracle family relations chairs, and morale dance leaders.
  • Create a mission statement. Ours became: “The North High School Dance Marathon will positively affect the lives of children facing immediate or long-term health challenges and their families by increasing awareness and raising money for Children’s Miracle Network.”
  • Set goals. Our goals were to fundraise $2,000 and have 400 individuals participate in the dance marathon and/or help us fundraise by buying CMN balloons.
  • Draft materials. Put together a registration form with participant guidelines and procure any supplemental fundraising materials, such as dance marathon T-shirts.
  • Construct a plan to publicize and recruit for the event.
  • Develop a strategy to fundraise.
  • Create a schedule. Our event featured Miracle Moments; a kids’ parade; competitions among the participants; performances; and the morale dance-a mash-up of several songs choreographed by the dance leaders that is taught periodically throughout the event. The dance marathon ends with everyone performing the entire morale dance.
  • Work with your charity organization staff to structure the event. We worked with the CMN staff to organize Miracle Moments, an event that showcased three CMN families who told their stories to the marathon participants about how CMN had made a difference in their lives.
  • Host the event. We assigned each of the student council members a job for the event and watched all of our hard work come together.

Fundraising

Our committee was fortunate to work closely with the local CMN staff to develop a three-part strategy for fundraising. The fundraising effort that had the most impact was collecting sponsorships from businesses and individuals. Student council members on the committee approached local businesses to ask for donations. The committee created an elevator pitch to explain the event, a sponsorship letter to give each business, and four donation levels. The business logos of sponsors that donated at least $100 were included on the back of the dance marathon T-shirt.

The second approach to fundraising was selling CMN balloons at several basketball games prior to the day of the dance marathon. Three sizes of balloons were offered for $1, $3, and $5, and most student council members participated by selling almost 300 balloons. In addition to fundraising, the balloon sales provided us with the opportunity to inform parents and community members about the upcoming event.

The registration fees for the dance marathon provided the third piece of fundraising. At the marathon, we sold raffle tickets for several donated items. Registration fees, raffle items, and participant donations contributed to our goal.

At the end of the dance marathon, we presented the total amount collected—which was more than $3,500! I made sure the total was a surprise to the committee members, so it was a very touching moment when they realized we had surpassed our fundraising goal.

Hosting a dance marathon for Children’s Miracle Network was a big commitment but it was also extremely rewarding. During the planning process, the committee members developed valuable relationships with the CMN staff and with one another. During the event, I witnessed countless heartwarming moments as the students met with CMN families, heard their stories, and played with the children. The student council members and I knew the hours of planning and work were well worth it when we left the dance marathon feeling energized and fulfilled. —

Brenda Bush-Hanson is a science teacher and the student council adviser at North High School in Sioux City, IA. The North High School Student Council is a 2015 IASC Honor Council with Meritorious Distinction and a 2015 NASC National Gold Council of Excellence.