Making a Lasting Impact

Beyond academics, a big part of the middle level and high school experience involves learning how to interact with others and discovering how to fit into the larger community. Students who engage in service projects have an opportunity to do this in a particularly profound way.

Service is a cornerstone of the experience for members of the National Honor Society (NHS) and National Junior Honor Society (NJHS). Likewise, student leaders with National Student Council (NatStuCo) schools are heavily engaged in a wide range of service activities, some aimed at enhancing the culture of learning, such as peer mentoring.

Each year, NHS and NJHS celebrate the most exceptional service activities by recognizing select chapters with an Outstanding Service Project award.

With this year’s submission deadline approaching, we wanted to share the experience and wisdom of advisers whose chapters earned the honor in the 2016–17 academic year. These tips will also be helpful for NatStuCo advisers.

Five Keys to Creating an Award-Winning Project

1. Make it personal. Students and adults who form personal connections invest more in the project.

“It is paramount to choose a project that the student body will really support in order to make the project the most successful,” says Laura Doi, NHS adviser at Willow Bend Academy in Plano, TX. After brainstorming a number of community service ideas, students at the school selected Promise House—an organization that embraces youth in crisis by providing services for pregnant and parent teens, including emergency shelter, transitional living, and counseling—as its recipient. “Members really liked the idea because Promise House focuses on youth, people who are the same ages as they are, which makes the topic more relatable,” she says.

Members were able to get a representative from Promise House to talk to students at school. “Having worked with these [homeless] youths himself, he was able to give more specific details about the youths and paint a more ‘real’ picture—better than we could have by just presenting facts we researched online,” Doi says. Willow Academy’s NHS group collected categories of items each week of October: nonperishable food for the first two weeks, adult-sized clothing the third week, and toiletries the fourth week. Throughout October, NHS members also collected gift cards and monetary donations.

At Lakeview Middle School in Battle Creek, MI, the NJHS chapter decided to do a Rainbow Food Drive to benefit the Food Bank of South Central Michigan, says adviser Beth Rayner. It hit close to home because nearly 190,000 people are served through 285 partner agencies, including 60 percent of the fifth through eighth grade students at Lakeview who receive free or reduced-price lunch.

NJHS students selected a “rainbow” theme to draw positive attention to their campaign. Students and staff were invited to dress in specific colors of the rainbow each school day and bring in food that coordinated. For example, on Red Day, students brought in items like red spaghetti sauce and Special K, which is packaged in a red box. On the Saturday after the food drive collection week, 25 seventh-grade NJHS members visited the food bank to officially weigh their donation, and they volunteered to package food in an assembly-line fashion.

2. Look beyond the walls of the school for a project with lasting impact.

After a gunman took the lives of 49 people at the Pulse Nightclub less than a mile from Blankner K–8 School in Orlando, FL, NJHS students, parents, and staff began brainstorming about something they could do to bring people together in love. Even though school was out for the summer “the idea of having a benefit show was developed by NJHS students and parents who straggled onto campus in the days following the shooting,” says adviser Elizabeth Rimmer.

Students and staff reached out to neighboring school performing arts groups, community groups, professional performers, and alumni of the school and asked them to perform. Nineteen organizations agreed to join the benefit show, resulting in 25 carefully selected acts that told stories of love, compassion, and tolerance. “The goal of our project, Love Wins, was twofold: to raise money for the OneOrlando Fund and to help our community’s hearts heal,” Rimmer says.

Rimmer encourages other NHS and NJHS chapters to “think bigger” and look to the community for help. “Others can experience the same success by reaching out to a variety of people in the community for support and actively publicizing their event,” she says. In the end, the Love Wins event raised $5,000 for the OneOrlando Fund.

Lakeview’s Rainbow Food Drive project not only raised 774 pounds of food for the area’s regional food bank and saw members pack more than 900 After-School Packs to offset weekend hunger, but it also had a long-term effect on volunteers.

“Many of our members and their families have volunteered monthly since the completion of our seventh-grade NJHS spring service project on Family Matters Saturdays … to continue supporting the Food Bank of South Central Michigan,” Rayner says. “The entire project opened up our eyes to hunger in our area, including within our school community.”

3. Think carefully about how to introduce your service project to faculty, staff, parents, and students. 

It’s particularly important to get students to care about the project. “The event must be well publicized throughout the school,” says Natasha Schaefer, adviser of the NHS chapter at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, CA, which annually hosts a project known as “Santa’s Helpers.” The group, which collects personalized gifts for 400 elementary students as part of an all-day event targeting families with income below the poverty line, uses short videos to catch students’ attention. “Quick videos are a great way to get everyone informed and to show success after the event,” Schaefer says. NHS members star in the videos, which promote the holiday event. Videos are less than a minute long and feature catchy Christmas music and clips of NHS members detailing when and where to sign up and drop off gifts. (View the full video at: tinyurl.com/xmasNHS.)

4. Offer support, but be sure students lead the project. 

With Blankner K–8 School’s Love Wins project, NJHS students were present at every after-school function selling tickets and promoting the event, and members stood outside every Friday morning in the car line to take donations, Rimmer says. NJHS members who were also part of the school’s Art Club helped create a backdrop for the event.

The night of the Love Wins live show, NJHS members either helped with logistics of the show or performed in it. NJHS members were responsible for making sure the guests on campus were comfortable in their holding rooms and on time for their appearance. “We had a backstage crew who helped with props and curtains and anything the volunteers who were doing lights and sound needed,” Rimmer says. “[Students] sold tickets and snacks. They distributed programs. After the event, they helped break down the stage and remove all the chairs.” In total, members accrued 285 service hours in this single event. After the show was over, every NJHS member spent time writing thank-you letters to different groups/performers.

For Lakeview’s Rainbow Food Drive, NJHS members took charge by negotiating with the school’s track teams and athletic director to allow free admission to the home track meet that week for every student who brought in a food donation. The group also formed teams to collect food and promote the event.

For Woodcreek’s Santa’s Helpers event, NHS members transformed the school cafeteria into a winter wonderland. Early in the school year, a gift collection and sorting team compiled wish lists for each child, and then solicited gifts, Schaefer says. Closer to the event date, the decorations group created things like huge candies and colorful posters, while the performance group rehearsed a skit written by an NHS member. During the event, NHS members interacted with the kids, enjoying skits, singing, craft making, mentoring by basketball players, and a performance by the dance team.

Rayner encourages advisers to try to be as organized as possible, communicate frequently, involve parents, and encourage the kids that they can do it. “I try never to say no, rather, asking: ‘What’s it going to take to make this happen?’ ”

5. Use competition and incentives to drive participation.

Willow Bend Academy implemented an inter-class competition for their Promise House event to drive donations, assigning points to donated items based on their prices, and they divided the school into seven classes. NHS members posted daily charts to display the point values for class donations, made daily announcements to remind students to participate, and passed out fliers to show items to be brought. At the end of each competition, they announced the winners, and these students received delicious homemade treats as prizes. “Students enjoy seeing these numbers so they can see how their class stacked up to other classes, which in turn spurred the competition,” Doi says. “Additionally, when the other students saw the winning classes enjoy their prizes, that also pushed them to donate.”

After the competitions were closed, NHS members made a final announcement to thank students for donations. Altogether, Willow Bend collected $570 in gift cards and cash, 275 food items, 50 articles of clothing, and 389 toiletries. “Our hope is that those we helped will go on to help others, and that our peers from whom we collected donations will be incited to continue contributing their time and resources to assist people in need,” Doi says.

Advantages of Giving Back

Service opportunities should leave a lasting effect not just on those helped, but those performing the acts of service, advisers say. “[Love Wins] was a lesson to our members that in times of crisis, we do something. It was a reminder to us all that when we hurt, the arts are a powerful way of expressing our feelings,” Rimmer says.

When brainstorming projects, consider looking for new opportunities every year. “We choose a different organization or charity each time, so we can educate our student body on a variety of issues, from homelessness to the elderly to countries facing chronic hunger,” Doi says. “It is not necessarily about the size or scope of the project, nor the total amount of money or items raised or donated. It is more about the outcome of the project in terms of change in the community and the positive effect on the school.”


Your Turn to Shine

Here’s how to enter the Outstanding Service Project award program:

  • Consider events your NHS or NJHS chapter sponsored between August 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, that addressed the NASSP student leadership initiative on global citizenship. (See www.nhs.us/osp or www.njhs.us/osp for more details.)
  • A project is considered for recognition based on its success in addressing a goal, its organization and implementation, and an evaluation of its outcome.
  • Go to www.nhs.us/osp or www.njhs.us/osp to submit your application from now through November 1, 2017.
  • Watch for the results; 10 NHS chapters and 10 NJHS chapters will be chosen to receive this national honor. Schools will be notified in February 2018.

2016–17 Outstanding Service Project Award Winners

NHS Honorees

Willow Bend Academy
Providing Promise to Texas Teens
Plano, TX

Aviano Middle/High School
Project Croatia
Aviano, Italy

Colegio Internacional de Carabobo
NHS/NJHS Supply Drive
Valencia, Carabobo, Venezuela

Bellefontaine High School
Veteran’s Day Military Recognition Assembly
Bellefontaine, OH

Hanalani Schools
Pi Day-Philippines Donation Project
Mililani, HI

Lutheran High School South
A Meaningful Christmas
St. Louis, MO

The American School of Tampico
A Special Kind of Kidzania
Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico

Woodcreek High School
Santa’s Helpers
Roseville, CA

York Catholic High School
Inner City Playground Project
York, PA

Troy Buchanan High School
Blood Drive
Troy, MO

NJHS Honorees

Blankner K-8 School
Love Wins
Orlando, FL

Lakeview Middle School
Rainbow Food Drive
Battle Creek, MI