Inspired to Serve Pilot Project: Key Findings and Reports
This page provides documentation on the evaluation and results of the Inspired to Serve pilot project, which ended in September 2009. Download a four-page project summary (PDF).
- The project leveraged one-time service-learning events (MLK Day and Global Day of Youth Service) into ongoing and sustain opportunities for service-learning. Nine out of ten participating youth indicated that their service (a) made a difference in that community; (b) had clear goals for what they wanted to accomplish; and (c) included opportunities to reflect on their experiences.
- The local sites developed new and sustained youth leadership models, including a city-wide interfaith youth council (St. Paul) and an interfaith youth leadership development model (Philadelphia).
- A comprehensive online tool kit for youth-led interfaith action (www.inspiredtoserve.org) was completed and launched, providing other networks with the tools and resources to develop and sustain interfaith service-learning initiatives.
- The project built a robust youth-led social media network, Bridge-Builders, facilitating resource sharing, spotlighting high quality work and encouraging self-organizing to spread the concepts of interfaith leadership.
- Inspired to Serve leaders (local sites and national partners) have become recognized national leaders in interfaith service-learning, with connections through the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Institute for Faith and Service with Points of Light Foundation, and One Nation.
- Civic potential—Interfaith service-learning has tremendous potential to accomplish important civic engagement and community-building goals. Rather than creating tension across religious boundaries, the action-reflection model of service-learning provides a valuable structure and process for authentic dialogue about differences as well as finding common purpose for community building. In addition, because diverse religious traditions also bring together diverse cultures, the model addresses the core priority of service-learning.
- Effective practices—Interfaith service-learning has unique opportunities to embody the principles and practices of effective service-learning. For example:
- Diversity—It engages a broad spectrum of the faith community in the service-learning movement, recognizing that many young people engage in service first through their religious institution.
- Reflection—It provides the structure and processes for encouraging young people to reflect on their deepest beliefs, values, and identity as they reflect on their service to others.
- Partnerships—It strengthens and broadens partnerships for service-learning across the community and around the nation.
- Youth leadership and voice—Most faith communities and interfaith networks recognize the importance of youth voice and leadership, but struggle to implement it consistently. Several factors make it challenging.
- Most faith communities do not have a strong history of youth leadership in their programming.
- The voluntary nature of participation from many settings across a city make youth-led planning and implementation difficult for logistical reasons, such as transportation, scheduling, and conflicts with other activities.
- The interfaith service-learning model is just now emerging (due, in part, to the success of this project), so there was previously less evidence and fewer concrete examples to share to inspire and guide young people to invest themselves in leadership roles.
However, we saw considerable growth in the development of youth voice and leadership through the three years of the project. As city models solidified and mini-grantee relationship were sustained, the scaffolding for youth leadership increased. Participants and leaders stayed involved through the years to develop new initiatives and to assume increased levels of responsibility.
- Focus on building relationships—The power of interfaith service-learning lies, to a great degree, in the intentional ways that relationships are built. When we ask young people about what is most meaningful about their interfaith service-learning experiences, they most often remember the relationships that form, both with their peers from other religious traditions as well as with the people they serve in the community.
- Strength-based investigation—Instead of using a traditional “needs assessment” as the basis of identifying priorities for service-learning, Inspired to Serve developed and used a strength-based investigation model that focused on identifying the community’s hopes and dreams, then partnered to move in those directions. This capacity-building approach appears to hold promise for overcoming any sense of paternalism between those serving and those being served.
- Lower risks than feared—The projects began with concerns nationally and locally in each site about whether and how interfaith youth service-learning could responsibly operate in the public square with federal support and mutual respect that preclude proselytizing and religious indoctrinization. However, the principles and practices of interfaith engagement combined with an action-reflection model of learning provided a context for relationships, respect, and learning that both enriched young people’s self-understanding and identity while also cultivating mutual respect and understanding of religious pluralism and values among the participating young people, community-based organizations, and the participating faith-based organizations.
- Staging—Introducing and implementing best practices in three different areas (service-learning, interfaith engagement, and asset building) within a three-year funding cycle with new networks proved to be overly ambitious, particularly in a formative, exploratory pilot project. Future projects would have more success by staging levels of growth and development based on a model of continuous improvement, rather than seeking to address a wide range of best practices while also forming new interfaith networks and infrastructures in the community.
- Technical assistance—Interfaith service-learning networks find concrete benchmarks and technical assistance to be particularly valuable in shaping their efforts. In the beginning of Year 3, the national partners identified key indicators of quality in each of the critical domain areas (which emerged through the formative learning in the first two years). This concrete assessment tool helped formalize training and technical assistance needed to reach outcomes and set capacity building targets.
- Early buy-in—Because of the need to move quickly to implementation, we chose sites that were known innovators in interfaith work, rather than asking interested communities to complete an RFP application process. In retrospect, we believe that an application process would have both increased buy-in and challenged applicants to develop a deeper understanding of the project prior to being selected. Instead, extensive investment-building was necessary during the first year to orient the sites and build broader engagement.
- Local innovation—Rather than developing a single national program, this project sought to stimulate local innovations that were consistent with the principles and practices of effective service-learning, interfaith engagement, and asset building. This approach required much more customized technical assistance, training, and networking, but it also led to strongly grounded models and innovations that are now being shared across networks. In addition, it has positioned local youth and adult leaders as experts and resource persons to other networks nationally.
- Peer learning—Some of the most highly valued aspects of the project for the local leaders were peer learning opportunities, including national gatherings/meetings, conference calls, and social networking sites (Bridge-Builders). The peer learning was particularly valuable at conferences when it included both youth and adults, each sharing models, approaches, and best practices from their own experience and expertise.
- Sustainability—Sustaining innovative interfaith models remains a challenge. Because the approach is new, faith communities do not yet see it as a core part of their youth programs (which are notoriously under-funded in the first place). Economic conditions at the end of this project further hampered the sites’ opportunities to receive support from local host organizations and foundations. However, in each case, the work has been valued highly enough by key stakeholders to find basic support to maintain and build the program beyond the federal funding. The challenge will be to institutionalize a collaborative program into the core budgets, staffing patterns, and programmatic priorities of the participating faith-based and community-based organizations.
Year 3 Reports (Final Reports)
Year 2 Reports