Demonstration Project with the YMCA of the USA Education Curriculum Pilot

YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis is one of eight YMCA sites selected from more than 2,220 YMCAs across the country to be part of the Stone Soup for the World Educational CurriculumPilot Program. The Stone Soup Leadership Institute, a 501c3 nonprofit education organization, provides tools that engage Americans in giving, serving and rebuilding their communities and empowers young people to build a better world.  Since the launch of its best-selling book, Stone Soup for the World: Life-Changing Stories of Everyday Heroes, the Institute received tremendous response from people who are hungry for educational tools to inspire students to help make the world a better place. The Institute’s Education Curriculum helps people use the book to teach young people values and character-building lessons, develop critical thinking skills and inspire them towards community action.

When Ret. General Colin Powell challenged people at the 1997 Presidents’ Summit for America’s Future to help America’s young people corporations were lining up to pledge volunteer hours on their employees’ behalf. The YMCA pledged to increase their number of volunteers nationally by 200,000 and was ready with coaching, mentoring, tutoring and other programs to channel new volunteers into better outcomes for city kids. “We’d been moving toward a greater emphasis on linking young people with caring adults,” said Harold Mezile, president of the YMCA of Metropolitan Minneapolis, “and the Summit opened up opportunities to do that. But we needed a more structured way to respond to people who decided to volunteer their time.” Their Corporate Youth Exchange Program, a mentoring effort linking inner-city middle schoolers with professionals from Honeywell, Lucent Technologies and Dayton Hudson Corporation and other local businesses, is just one of the many programs they’ve put in place.

The YMCA of the USA was chosen for this collaborative effort with the Institute because of its outstanding leadership in developing after-school programs that help fulfill their vision of building strong kids, strong families and strong communities.  Other pilot sites include the North Suburban YMCA of Greater Boston’s Earth Service Corps (YESC) after-school program, the Partners Program at Springfield College’s YMCA, the Allston-Brighton Family Branch YMCA with Boston College volunteers involved with their mentor-based counseling program, Virginia Tech’s YMCA in Blackburg, VA, Grafton, West Virginia’s HI-Y School Day Plus program, the Youth as Resources Program at the Muncie Family YMCA in Indiana and the Milwaukee YMCA’s Passports for Youth Program. These eight sites are making an impact locally while helping the YMCA reach its commitment to America’s Promise to increase the number of volunteers nationally to 580,600 and helping the Institute move towards its commitment of getting the book into the hands of a million young people. In addition, they are contributing to the emerging field of service learning and those are looking for ways to teach young people about civic responsibility. “Stone Soup for the World is full of real life stories that will interest people of all ages – and from which they can learn. And the Institute’s Education Curriculum provides excellent ideas and activities to help bring those stories to life. For many of our YMCAs, these publications have become effective reflection tools, enabling them to engage participants in important community service activities,” says David R. Mercer, National Executive Director, YMCA of the USA.

For the last several months, the service learning coordinators of the eight sites have worked closely with Tony Ganger, YMCA’s Program Director of Service Learning and Marianne Larned, founding director of the Institute and author ofStone Soup for the World.  Having assisted corporate, government, civic and community leaders in developing public-private partnerships to build healthier communities for over twenty years, Ms. Larned is especially committed to inspiring young people to be humanitarian leaders of the new millennium. Monthly conferences and regular communications via email have allowed for invaluable interaction in responding to site coordinator questions and enhancing the pilot

program results. Site coordinators have made valuable suggestions for how the Education Curriculum could be a practical, easy-to-use, educational tool for other community-based organizations, schools and universities that are developing a service-learning curriculum that will inspire students to become great citizens. “The YMCA has been doing this kind of work for more than 100 years,” says Ganger. “We are in an ideal position to move service-learning outside the classroom and into real-world experiences.” The eight YMCA pilot sites are integrating the book and the Institute’s Education Curriculuminto the service-learning curriculum of their after-school programs. The Education Curriculum serves as a reflection tool and action resource supplementing a variety of YMCA youth development programs. YMCA college volunteers are finding it is an effective teaching tool to help students connect the classroom with real-life experiences. The self-paced, flexibleEducation Curriculum provides detailed suggestions for how these stories can be integrated into character education, citizenship activities and community service programs. Each pilot site coordinator has developed a unique strategy to integrate the Leader’s Guide into a variety of their YMCA programs. They have designed sessions that encouraged self-reflection, group interaction and large group sharing. Through their efforts they are fostering positive youth development and helping shepherd youth into a successful future. Below is a preliminary summary of how each site is using theEducation Curriculum with their young people.

In Minneapolis, some of the 300-500 teen participants in the YMCA’s programs are using the Education Curriculum as a reflection tool with middle school children in their Earth Service Corps program. These teen volunteers read the “feel-good, user-friendly stories,” write answers to questions and share their ideas with the group. The book and the Education Curriculum are excellent youth development tools,” says Cristine Patlan, YMCA Resource Coordinator. “We plan to use them with all our after-school programs (YESC, Y’s Start groups, Leadership for Empowerment). This summer, we hope to put books in the hands of all teens so they can read stories to kids in our Summer Adventure Day Camps.” The Allston-Brighton Family Branch YMCA in Boston, the oldest YMCA in the country, is using the book and the Leader’s Guide in their mentor-based counseling program. Twelve student volunteers from Boston College are training middle school students to work with over forty younger students from the Y’s School Age Child Care program. They are finding that tying stories into significant days like Dr. Martin Luther King Day and featuring stories about local heroes like Sidewalk Samreally works. “Our young people were able to focus on a broader view of the world and talk about the difference between giving up and sticking with it when faced with tough situations,” says program coordinator, Terri Mulks. “They also saw people not unlike themselves who came from a life of struggle to achieve something great. This was the most important lesson they learned.”

“The Education Curriculum’s format covers a range of areas which can be adjusted to the needs of our different students. It also allows for it to be used in a variety of places and for a variety of reasons,” says Terri. “The Activities Section was especially helpful among my volunteers in generating new ideas. It will be a great resource for years to come.” Adding “Thank you so much for choosing us to participate in this project. It has been an exciting, fun and a good experience for all involved!”

The Partners Program at Springfield College’s YMCA paired a college student with an urban youth for six months. Designed as a student leadership model, this nationally recognized tutoring/mentoring program is entirely coordinated and operated by college students. Over 150 college students are paired each year with 150 youth (grades 3-8) from three urban schools. Each of the 300 students received a copy of the book and they are using stories during their tutoring sessions, followed by recreational activities and dinner together. Over 300 students are participating in the Muncie, Indiana YMCApilot program. They believe that these stories will enhance their teen mini-grant programs and service-learning projects in the community. Teenagers from their Youth as Resources program are using the stories to tutor students in six local classrooms. College volunteers from a Social Work class at Ball State University are working with high school students while learning how to develop service-learning techniques and strengthen their group facilitation skills.  During HI-Y Week (March 14-20), Grafton, West Virginia’s HI-Y members used the book and the Education Curriculum with 60 elementary school students (ages 5-12) in their School Day Plus program. They found that reflection questions like “Have you ever spoken up for something that really mattered to you?” stimulated thoughtful responses. “I have spoken up against sexism, but on other matters, it is very hard to do,” said one young girl adding, “I wish I had the courage.” On April 17 as part of West Virginia’s Saturday for Service during National Volunteer Week, these young people will put their learning into action by working together with community members to clean up a local park. And high school students in the Y’s Family and Consumer Science classes were inspired by the story Something Greater Than Ourselves, invited an Americorps VISTA volunteer to speak about national service opportunities, and were them into action. This summer they will use Stone Soup for the World and the Education Curriculum with younger students in the Energy Express reading skills enhancement program. “By providing young people with “food for thought,” the Education Curriculum made the warm and fuzzy stories into thought-provoking stories,” says YMCA program director, Mary Tucker. “The Curriculum helped to tie all the aspects of the learning experience together and make the transition to service learning as a teaching method easier for already busy teachers.” Ten student leaders from the Virginia Tech YMCA are using Stone Soup for the World to inspire the seventy young people (ages’ 5-12) from low-income housing complexes in Blacksburg, Virginia they are mentoring. These students also found that the stories in the book helped prepare them for their “alternative spring break” where they decided to make a difference instead of making the usual college scene. They learned about the culture and history in an Appalachian community and in Belize, where they — like kids in the story Hope for Los Chavalitos in the book — helped build a school for young people.

The North Suburban YMCA of Greater Boston is using Stone Soup for the World with middle school students in theirEarth Service Corps (YESC) after-school program. Program coordinator, Meredith Laban, starts each session with a story, and then has students discuss, plan and implement a service-learning project. “Featuring local heroes like Sidewalk Sam has really helped to capture their attention,” says Meredith. “They’ve also written him a letter requesting his help to paint a mural they are planning.” The Milwaukee YMCA’s Passports for Youth Program is using Stone Soup for the World with some of their 13 young people (grades 9-12) from low-income households to help them become independent adults. They are integrating the stories into the life-skills, academic and career development programs to help students design and implement a plan to chart their future. They find that the stories in the book are especially meaningful to those young people whose families are getting off of welfare. For example, reading about Dexter Wellman, a 12-year-old African-American who created a makeshift school for the children in the homeless shelter where he was living, stimulated a thoughtful group discussion. “No matter what your situation, you can always help others,” said one youth, adding, “Don’t use your situation as an excuse not to help.” While several young people had friends who were homeless, one person admitted, “I should watch what I say about people, especially about the ones I don’t know.” These students learned valuable lessons from the story including “Make the best out of a bad situation like homelessness.” “Look for constructive activities vs. just lying around.” “Dexter didn’t get mad at his parents.” “Keep up your own spirits.” “Parents need to plan ahead — by getting back-up jobs and buying savings bonds.”Students were asked to identify “one kind and courageous thing they had done lately” to encourage self-reflection and group sharing about caring behavior. They then created an image of their worldview and identified at least one thing they would change if unlimited money and other resources were available. Students received copies of the book as prizes for their ideas. They also joined in singing What About the Children by gospel singer, Yolanda Adams. They are now planning an event for National Volunteer Week (April 18-24). “I learned a lot. We should spread the word,” said one.