Godfrey-Lee’s Todd and VanTuinen attend National Service Learning Conference


More than 1,800 people gathered in Minneapolis last week to take part in the nation’s largest conference on service-learning — the 23rd Annual National Service-Learning Conference and youthrive PeaceJam Leadership Conference. Participants included educators, school administrators, young professionals, nonprofit staff, and youth, who participated in over 150 different workshops, on- and off-site service-learning projects, and a hands-on “Serve and Celebrate” day.

The conference attracted participants from across the U.S. and abroad, with youth and educators traveling from more than 20 countries including Qatar, Brazil, and Puerto Rico. Highlights included plenary addresses from President and CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc. Geoffrey Canada and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Shirin Ebadi, as well as Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. About half of the conference attendees were youth, who flocked to the Best Buy-sponsored Youth Room, and filled seats during musical performances by local artists as well as American Idol finalist Lauren Alaina, who is the newly-announced 2012 Special Olympics Project UNIFY ambassador.

Since the loss, a year ago, of federal funding specifically supporting service-learning in the U.S., service-learning and national service advocates have been pressed to find alternative ways to sustain critical programs that have thrived due in part because of these funds. Yet the drive and passion for quality service-learning remained strong and on display in Minneapolis as the field moved to increase the impacts of service-learning through collaboration and collective action.  “We do know what works,” said Kelita Svoboda Bak, NYLC CEO, to conference attendees during the opening plenary, explaining service-learning as a strategy to engage youth in real world learning. “We can choose to see [the federal budget cuts] as an opportunity to unite us — not in anger over what was lost, but in the promise of creating a new path, for collective action toward the next leap forward in improving outcomes for youth, educators, and communities. I believe this is our defining moment.”

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