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Why Should Dialogue Groups Do Community Service?

Instead of meeting numerous times for dialogue before finally trying to make the transition to action, why not try adding a community service activity to your dialogue program’s schedule? This revised format could benefit your dialogue group in several ways. A community service session could: temporarily satisfy participants’ need for action, get all group members thinking about possibilities for future action, provide a common framework for approaching a discussion about action, help build trust and teamwork, increase the group’s visibility in the community and more. Heierbacher put together this tip sheet while she was serving as a Fellow for the Corporation for National Service and working on her Master’s thesis on integrating dialogue with action.

What are some service activities that are appropriate for dialogue groups?

Any one-time community service activity which requires little preparation and which will allow the members of your dialogue group to work together (with or without additional volunteers) would be ideal. Some examples of such projects are:

  • building renovations (painting, spackling, putting up drywall, etc.)
  • preparing and serving a meal at a soup kitchen
  • preparing meals for Meals on Wheels
  • assembling or distributing boxes of groceries at a food bank
  • volunteering at a nonprofit organization’s special fundraising or awareness event
  • holiday volunteering (wrapping gifts for kids, distributing trees or turkeys, etc.)

How can we find out what kinds of service opportunities are available in our community?

There are organizations in every community which are in need of volunteers. Finding an organization that can provide a one-time service activity for a group around a particular date, however, can be tricky. The following organizations are more likely than most to be able to accommodate your needs.

AmeriCorps and other National Service programs

Chances are, there are national service programs running in your community. Contact your state’s Commission on National and Community Service to find out how to get in touch with AmeriCorps programs near you, or your Corporation for National Service state office for VISTA or Senior Corps programs. Tell them that you have a small group which wants to work together on a one-time service project, and that the group will most likely be taking more action in the community later.


Habitat for Humanity International

HFH has local affiliates all across the country, most of which would probably be open to offering your group a one-time service project. Habitat volunteers help renovate or build homes for low-income families who might not otherwise be able to own a home. Often alongside the future homeowners, volunteers paint, spackle, knock down walls, and so on. Habitat’s web site lists most of its local affiliates, but you can also call 912-924-6935 to find out where the closest affiliate is to you. Or try looking for it in the phone book.


Meals on Wheels

Although Meals on Wheels, which delivers hot, healthy meals to home-bound people, usually needs deliverers more urgently, volunteers are needed for food preparation as well. Contact your local Meals on Wheels to see if they can accommodate your group for a one-time service project, letting them know that some of the volunteers could decide to help them out on a regular basis. Look in your local phone book, or call 1-800-677-1116 for a location near you.


United Way of America

The United Way has offices across the country, many of which offer volunteer placement services. Your local United Way is a great resource that everyone in your dialogue group should be familiar with and know how to utilize. Tell your United Way that your group is looking for a one-time service project, but make sure they know how dialogue tends to lead to community action. You may inspire them to get their organization involved in local dialogue efforts. Check the website for United Ways near you. Or call 1-800-411-UWAY (8929).


Other Opportunities

You can also utilize these online databases of volunteer opportunities:

Sandy Heierbacher

Written as part of a fellowship for the Corporation for National and Community Service (1999)

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