By Cliff McEvoy
Civic Nebraska Civic Engagement Mentor
As one of Civic Nebraska’s Civic Engagement Mentors, I volunteered to “provide support and encouragement to assist Lincoln Public School students create and carry out a service learning project.” Or at least that’s what my Civic Action Project manual told me… but what does that really mean? Turns out it meant that I would get to know a great class of Northstar High School 9th graders: listen to them, answer their very insightful questions, and watch them turn service ideas into project realities.
The teacher was Mrs. Elizabeth Carranza-Rodriguez and her 6th period class of twenty-six geography students. When I introduced myself to her class, I told them I am an Air Force veteran and currently working in non-profit fundraising with Community Services Fund of Nebraska. The students had a lot of great questions about being a veteran and what it was like serving in the military. This is when we discussed our service men and women deployed around the world in defense of our country. And that’s how a simple discussion about my Air Force background turned into learning about the military and creating a care package service project.
We invited Master Sergeant (MSgt) Sarah Bredthauer of the Nebraska Air National Guard to speak to the class. She was able to answer all of the student’s in-depth deployment questions and mentioned that twelve members of her civil engineering squadron were going to deployed and away from their families over the holidays. The class immediately started asking if they could send care packages and what items would the deployed guardsmen want. MSgt Bredthauer mentioned that they were very proud Nebraskans and loved getting Husker gear.
With that knowledge in hand, the class wrote a letter to JaCee Pilkington, the reigning Miss Nebraska, whose platform includes raising awareness and appreciation for our military members and veterans. Ms Pilkington was able to acquire some sought-after Husker apparel and posters for the class. But would that be enough? That’s when we discussed asking others for help: friends, family, and even the Lincoln community. They reached out to local businesses for gift cards to buy items and ran a donation drive which raised 75 dollars in gift cards to buy food and over 150 dollars from Northstar students and faculty to pay for the postage to actually mail the care packages.
For me, what began as a class discussion about military service had culminated in a service learning project where 26 Lincoln Public School students showed how the kindness of the community can come together to donate time, items, and money for a good cause: Nebraskans deployed over the holidays in defense of our country. They weren’t afraid to get involved, ask questions and even ask for help, never stop learning, and inspire others through their service. As a Civic Engagement Mentor I was supposed to assist and encourage the class with their project, but what the manual didn’t mention was what the students would teach me: the true meaning of service learning.