One-Time Service Events: Five Considerations

Meredith Miller | Sep 15, 2011

Today we’re sharing a guest post from FYI author and research team member Meredith Miller, reposted with permission from her blog earlier this week.

My role for the past year has been working with college students at Pepperdine University through our Volunteer Center. One theme we cover with our student staff in fall training is not-so-deep service vs. deep justice, from Deep Justice in a Broken World. One of the contrasting pairings in the framework is:

Not-so-deep service is an event. Deep justice is a lifestyle.

Not two weeks after we covered this concept, our office hosted a one-time service event. And it wasnt just any one-time service event. Its, well, big.

1,400 participants broken in to 90 groups, working with 70+ partners, traveling into our community on 23 school buses, 9 huge vans, and 9 shuttle buses big.

And then we had to stand in front of the student staff and explain why we do it. Why this is not, in fact, a total contradiction from what we just said. This can be tough, especially when you consider that our team is newly forming and newly engaging in social justice. They care about serving, about people and helping the poor, certainly. But deep justice? Thats still fairly new territory for them.

I do believe there is a place for one time events in social justice work, provided we attend to a few things:

  • The work for the day should be determined by your non-profit partner and their greatest needs. On Skid Row, for instance, there is actually not a lot of need for food servers, because of the popularity of that opportunity. Let them decide how to put your group to work, so that youre really meeting one of their needs. Which leads me to
  • Work with a good non-profit partner. Find an organization that is on the ground full time, and who does their work well. Ask them if theyd consider hosting your students for the day, and have them spend a some time explaining their mission and work to the group before diving into the tasks. We often just want to get to work, but rushing can dishonor the expertise of those who are really in the field and the community they serve.
  • Use it as a spring board to recurring, consistent service. In the case of our event, we close out with an In-n-Out lunch and an ocean view. But the central component of the post-service event is a volunteer fair that features over 15 ongoing service opportunities. Hundreds of participants make a commitment to serve again. And if they do it again, and again, it does indeed start to become a lifestyle.
  • Bookend your experience. A day of service is only as effective as the meaning participants draw from it. So have enough conversations before and after the day to set up your students for success. Talk about themes of partnership. Ask what they think it feels like to do that work full-time. Focus on everything that happens when you are not there, rather than everything you think you accomplished on their behalf in a few hours. Which lead to my final thought
  • The organization is the one doing you a favor by hosting you, just as much as more than you are helping with some extra hands. It can be a serious hassle to have a one-time group. They need to be trained on the work, supervised by representative from the organization, and may not share the values of the partner. Bringing an attitude that they are lucky to have you is destructive on multiple levels.

What types of things have you done to leverage one time service opportunities towards a full-time deep justice lifestyle? What questions do you ask your group, or what types of projects do you select?

Or are you part of a host-organization? If so, what else do you wish a one-time group understood?

Meredith Miller

Meredith serves as Curriculum Director for Promiseland at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL. Her role focuses on helping kids engage with scripture and respond to God in meaningful and personal ways each weekend. She graduated with an MDiv from Fuller Seminary in 2008 and completed BAs in Religious Studies and Spanish at Westmont College in Santa Barbara.

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