Virtual Service Learning

Active Citizenship in a Virtual World

[I]n order to create a world that works for more people, for more life, we have to collaborate on the process of dreaming and visioning and implementing that world.
adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy

At Break Away, we believe there’s no limit to the change you can make in your community. While we are in the midst of a global pandemic, service for the greater good is still very possible - but we must be creative, innovative, and imaginative in how we go about it.

Many schools, community organizations, and volunteers are having to reimagine alternative break trips and service learning opportunities. This is not necessarily a bad thing. For years, there have been critiques about toxic charity and “voluntourism” that harms already vulnerable communities rather than serving them well.

COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated previously existing inequities. There is no better time to encourage people to care for their neighbors and communities. Our hope is that you all will take this time to start thinking proactively about how virtual and hyper-local service are of great benefit.

 The Shift Towards Virtual + Hyper-Local Service

While some alternative break programs use destination-based trips as a part of their recruitment strategy, it is possible that traveling for service trips will not resume in the coming academic year. The pandemic presents an opportunity for programs to pursue more intentionally local, place-based service.

Whether due to lack of transportation, being immuno-compromised, having a disability, or other reasons, some people prefer to volunteer via phone or computer. This means that many folks who once found it difficult to get involved are seeing service opportunities increase in their favor. Phone banking, fundraising campaigns, transcription/writing, and graphic design can all be done remotely. In today’s digital age, many organizations might also need help with email and website updates.

Engagement Doesn't Have to Drop

Students place importance on community building (even while practicing social distancing). They wish to be a part of safe spaces to share dialogue around issues they are engaging in. They are looking for ways to still be engaged and further educate themselves. Service opportunities that honor this interest in community engagement and have true communal impact will be a “win” for all involved.

Now is also a great time to engage in advocacy as service. Particularly in an election year, students could spend time educating themselves on an issue like voter suppression and championing voter access.

For those planning experiences and leading teams, we suggest doing research to find out what local community organizations are around you. What they are doing and what they need? Ask them. Sometimes, what is best for vulnerable communities is you not being present but financially supporting or raising awareness via your networks. It is important to listen and honor these wishes.

Current Virtual Service Opportunities

Many of you may be looking for opportunities to keep yourself and your students engaged in meaningful ways during the crisis. Now, more than ever, is the time to do what is right and pursue a just and equitable society. The world we wish to see will happen through collective work and hyper-local engagement. Here at Break Away, we’ve been talking with our community partners from across the country and looking for opportunities to keep being Active Citizens while staying home. We’ve compiled a list of a few opportunities that you may like. We’ll keep adding to it, and we welcome your suggestions!