Service Learning  

I did my service learning through project G.E.M, a project which stands for growth, experience and motivation.  Project G.E.M. is an outreach program, designed to reach youth with special needs through cultural, environmental, holistic and social education.  The program draws upon ones inner creative talent for complete mind, body, and soul growth.  Project G.E.M. was created by program director Alice De Yonge in 1993.  It provides creative programs to youth ages 12-17 within high-risk facilities such as Alternative Schools, Day Treatment Centers, and other county agencies.  Project G.E. M. collaborates with many other local programs and agencies that also work with special needs youth.  The Mankato United Way, Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, and other local contributors support the funding for Project G.E.M.

 I volunteered at the Mankato Off Site Jr. High School four hours a day, two days a week.  I also volunteered at the After School Art Class as an assistant to Barbara Rischmiller, on Thursday’s from 4:00-5:30pm.  Both of these had a focus on children that are disruptive during class and that need extra help and attention.  I chose these two areas because I wanted more experience working with middle school students.

At the Mankato Off Site Jr. High School, I was mostly an observer for the first couple of weeks.  The school has two classrooms and about fifteen students ages twelve to sixteen.  When I arrived at the school, which is located in a church on Broad Street, I watched Page Strand teach a math lesson.  The math lesson was on math that the students will use for life.  They learned to balance their checkbooks and figure out their paychecks.  Each student learns at their own pace.  They have a task that is expected to be completed by a certain date and if it’s not done they need specific reasons why.  After math, one group of students goes into counseling and the other group enters Larry Enright’s social / science room.  The lessons that Larry usually taught were very interesting and based on the discussion of the students.  They learned about what they wanted to learn and more.  Larry is very knowledgeable on history and is very good teacher.  During the time that I spent observing, I learned some teaching strategies that would help me in my teaching career.  When there is a problem in the classroom with a child not participating, Larry brought it to their attention that it hurts their future not his.  This seemed to work with some students better than other.  Larry also used educational videos taped from the history channel and fun crossword work sheets to learn new vocabulary.

During my last few weeks of volunteering at the Mankato Off Site Jr. High School, I did get to teach some lessons.  Mostly, a discussion to review the words and gave points if they knew what the words were.  This was a review for the up coming test.    While working one on one with some of the students, I found that most of the students had learning problems.  There were a few students who were exceptionally smart but couldn’t manage themselves in a regular classroom. 

I have volunteered in other schools and done one on one tutoring before and found this volunteering to be a waist of time.  Mostly I observed the students at the Mankato Off Site Jr. High School and didn’t have the chance to make an impact on any of the students.  With other volunteer agencies that I have been a part of, I was put in to the classroom and assigned things to do right away, there was an actual need for someone to be there.  I was told the first day that I arrived at the Mankato Off Site Jr. High that they didn’t need me at the moment because those that needed the one on one help, were assigned an aid to help them.  They said I could stay and watch and if they needed help they’d let me know.  I wanted to participate as a volunteer where I wouldn’t just sit and watch, so after “my time” was completed I told them that I would not be coming back.

I had a better experience with the After School Art Class, as an assistant to Barb Rischmiller, who conducted an art lessons and when anyone need help, I was there to hold glued pieces together, mix paint, and sometimes just to lend an extra hand.  The youth that are involved in this program are 10-15 years old.  Most of these students are interested in art and want to build their art skills.  The After School Art Program’s objectives are to develop creative self-expression, basic art education, open up natural artistic freedom, focus on individual art interests, fee the creative spirit, build positive self-esteem and self-confidence, and to hold and art exhibit at the end of the year with the students works displayed. 

The first art project that was done was Indian totem poles.  We watched a movie on a young boy trying to find his crest to put into the totem pole.  It gave background of another cultures art form and then it was implemented to the student’s freedom of artistic expression.  The students were to create their own totem poles out of little wooden pieces and assemble them in a way that gave their totem poles meaning.  After the glue dried they painted them to give them color.  It was my job to give the students ideas on how to assemble the odd shapes of wood into an animal for the totem poles.  Once they had an idea of what they wanted to created I helped them hold the pieces together to let the glue dry and then to mix the paint to get the right colors that they desired. 

The next project was making a basket out of brown paper bags.  They could make their baskets any size and color they wanted.  I cut out the strips of paper as Barb showed them how to assemble the baskets.  This was a difficult task for some because to weave the sides of the baskets took some patience.  I helped hold, glue, weave, and paint for this project. 

The last project that we worked on was doing sand art.  This required a one on one teamwork.   The students created their own Indian designs on a scratch piece of paper and then traced it onto this special tacky tag board.  The design was then cut out with an exacto knife very carefully and then the top layer was peeled off.  The sand was then added to the paper and excess sand was put back.  This had a lot of clean up involved, which I stayed to help with.

I enjoyed this type of volunteer work a lot but could not continue volunteering because I was offered a job that required me to work on Thursday afternoons.  Someday I would like to volunteer my time to the After School Art Program because the people are friendly and I felt like I was helping and was an active volunteer.

I think that Project G.E.M. is a good organization and helps many youth at risk.  It does take special people to work with some of the teenagers that they deal with but it make a huge impact on everyone in the community too.  The After School Art Program is giving some of these children a way to express themselves instead of using violence or disobedience.  The community is lucky to have an organization like this because most organizations deal with the younger children.

One thing that I found to be very well done is the way Project G.E.M. evaluates themselves by giving every volunteer an evaluation report to fill out when they have finished volunteering.  These evaluations help the program with future funding and useful information for determining the success of the program and any changes needed for improvement.  All of the evaluations remain with the program director and may be reviewed by the board members of the program.  Financial contributors may request copies of the evaluations to determine future funding for the program.  This is good news because Project G.E.M. is going to try hard to have good positive evaluations so that they can continue to get the funding they need to run good programs.  I found it easy to fill out the form for the After School Art program even though I spent less time there.  The evaluation Report for the Mankato Off Site Jr. High school was harder for me to fill out because I didn’t feel like I contributed to the program and didn’t get the as much out of the experience. 

I found Alice De Yonge to be very nice and helpful in setting up my times to volunteer and also very efficient in filling out my forms.  I had to mail them to her because she lives in Lake Crystal and I was afraid that I wouldn’t get them back for a long time but she sent them back to me with in that week.  That shows me that she has good organization skills and gives Project G.E.M. her all.  Her motivation caries over to her volunteers.

I thought that when Malda Farnham came in to give her talk that she had a lot of good things to say about volunteering.  One that I agree with the most is “Volunteer as much as one can handle”.   I have a job that requires about 25 hours a week and then 16 credits of class time with that and then there is homework too.  To stay in a healthy frame of mind, you need to have some time for yourself, but to feel like I’m doing something I like to volunteer some of my time too.  I might not have a set volunteer time but I do help my roommates when they are having a hard time.  When I go home I help my mom by cleaning the house because she doesn’t have the time to keep up with it all.  Just like Malda said, “Volunteering isn’t always through an organization, but it can be talking to your grandmother or just doing something for others.”  I would like to conclude in saying “free yourself in joyful volunteering.  Feel free to attempt your own goals.”


Cheryl Simrell King and Camilla Stivers, (1998) Government is Us: Public Administration in an Anti-Government Era, Sage Publications Inc.

The Drucker Foundation, The Community of the Future, 1998 NY

Malda Farnham’s presentation talk, Oct. 31, 2000

Project G.E.M. pammflet

Richard A. Couto, Community Health as Social Justice: Lessons on Leadership, Issue: April, 2000, 

Amie Hulstein

URSI 230