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Everybody Can Be Great – MLK

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr once said that “Everybody can be great because anybody can serve.” When I lived in Mississippi, the Martin Luther King holiday was a big community service day. It was often referred to as “Not a day off, but a day ON”, which meant that instead of sitting around the house playing video games, we would be out in the community doing something positive.

I also remember it as being one of the coldest days of the year, but that didn’t deter us from cleaning up a park or painting the house of an elderly resident. Of course, service projects don’t HAVE to be outdoors. Visiting a nursing home or serving food at a homeless shelter are great indoor projects. One of my favorite indoor service projects was the Prom for Senior Citizens. The seniors LOVED it!! And the teens did such an awesome job facilitating and performing.

In honor of the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, I am offering Everyone a copy of my ebook about Service learning for FREE this weekend only!! “Let’s Do This!” Let’s be great!



60 Free or Low Cost Service Projects


Most of these service learning projects can be adjusted to accommodate different age groups (K-12) and require a minimum amount of supplies, like construction paper and markers, or vegetable and flower seeds.

Younger students should be able to make cards, perform songs, plant gardens, clean up small areas, visit the elderly, collect items and even participate in awareness campaigns.
Some of the projects require specific skills, such as computer skills or playing instruments. However, most of the projects do not require any previous skills, like collecting particular items.

Remember to let the students have a voice in choosing the service project that best fits their interests and don’t forget to help students reflect on what they are learning during and after the project. And most importantly, HAVE FUN.

1. Community resource/Job Fair – Students will invite community
organizations to set up displays in the gym, library or cafeteria and give
out information about their organizations
2. Technology Training for senior citizens – Students will partner with a
senior citizen group to assist them with computer skills and internet
3. Homework assistance or Tutoring at After School Programs – Students will partner with an after school program and assist younger children with their homework.
4. Book Drive – Students will collect and donate children’s books to promote literacy.
5. Create alphabet books – Students will make alphabet books for younger children by drawing pictures or cutting out pictures from magazines.
6. Reading to younger children – Students will pick a picture book and read to younger children. Students could also design an art project related to the story for the children to complete.
7. Gift Bags for Teachers – Students will collect small items like candy, pens, lotion, tissue, etc for teachers and make thank you cards for them.

8. Drug education – Research the effects of illegal drug usage
9. Sports camps – Host sports activities for a youth program
10. Field days at local schools – Design different games and activities stations for children to play
11. Volunteer for local youth sports leagues (referee, coach, fund raise, develop, etc.)
12. Community vegetable garden – Plant a vegetable garden for poor or homeless.
13. Host an exercise class – Demonstrate easy ways to get active.
14. Healthy Nutrition demonstration – Demonstrate how to make healthy snacks.
15. Clothes closet – Students will have a clothes donation drive at one
school and set up a clothes closet at another school (to prevent children
from being embarrassed about wearing clothes of their classmates)
16. Grocery shopping for the elderly – Students will partner with a senior
citizen community to do the grocery shopping for the elderly.

17. Organize a Glee Club – Students will teach children songs or how to play an instrument.
18. Provide entertainment – Students will volunteer in nursing homes, providing music entertainment
19. Support arts education – Students will help younger children with an art project.
20. Make holiday cards (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother/Father’s Day, Veterans Day, Valentine’s Day) for Meals on Wheels recipients
21. Talent Show – Students will organize a music event to raise funds for a charity of their choice.


22. Landscaping for school, community organization or the elderly. Borrow equipment and cut grass, pull weeds, and or rake leaves.

23. Disaster preparation – Students will collect information about tornado and hurricane preparation and make information packs for the community. Older students could also make presentations for younger

24. Adopt a Park – Students will clean up a park and plant flowers.

25. Collect blankets for low-income and homeless individuals
26. Beautification projects for a school, daycare or nursing home
27. Tree planting – plant trees in the community
28. Host a science field fair for schools
29. Environmental Awareness Fair – Research the effects of water pollution, air pollution or global warming.
30. Recycling and other environmental sustainability projects
31. Food Drive – Students will partner with a food bank to collect nonperishable food items for the homeless.
32. Repurpose Prom Dresses – Students will collect used prom dresses and make them available at little or no cost. Funds collected could be used for cleaning.
HEALTH – Awareness Campaigns
(could include making posters, flyers, videos, websites, presentations before groups, make and give away awareness bracelets, or ribbons etc.)
33. Teenage suicide and bullying awareness – Students will research facts about teenage suicide and/or bullying and design an awareness campaign using posters, skits, videos or an internet campaign
34. Child Abuse Prevention Month – April – Students will spread awareness of child abuse prevention by making posters, doing skits or making online campaigns.
35. Anti-smoking campaign – Research the effects of smoking and provide ways to quit smoking from local organizations
36. Walk-a-thon for charity of your choice
37. Diabetes Prevention presentation
38. Volunteer in nursing home and hospital settings
39. Hospice projects –blankets, cards, placemats
40. Collect pennies for cancer research
41. Health and Wellness Education Events/Fairs – Invite community presenters to set up displays and also make displays of your own.
42. Partner with Ronald McDonald House
43. Fundraising for domestic violence shelter
44. Human trafficking prevention awareness
45. Free car wash for an awareness campaign or a charity of your choice
46. Host party for a specific group of children – special needs, foster children, children of incarcerated parents, children with cancer, etc… (develop mentoring relationships)

47. Adopt a highway or beach – clean up the area and recycle the cans.
48. Beautification projects for local school, nursing home or daycare. Plant flowers, trees, or a vegetable garden. Build benches or bird houses.
49. Fundraising for Red Cross or charity of your choice
50. Make blankets or baby hats for a pregnancy center or neonatal hospital.
51. Provide a meal for needy individuals
52. Support the Troops – collect items for soldiers overseas
53. Partner with Habitat for Humanity to build a house
54. Teen Job Fair for teens in the community, invite local businesses
55. Partner with a local animal shelter – promote animal adoption, walk dogs, collect dog food or make doggie chew toys.
56. Organize a free yard sale – have people donate and exchange items
57. Partner with a homeless shelter – collect items they need, bake cookies or mentor children.
58. School Supplies Drive – collect school supplies for low income children.
59. Perform a Flash Mob Routine – Choreograph a dance to perform in a public place like a mall, to bring awareness to a special cause.
60. Aid elderly population to remain in home rather than move to institutional settings by assisting with housework or yardwork.

For more information about how to implement service learning projects, follow Edu-Services at abramstolden.wordpress.com.

National Service Learning Conference


I’m so excited about the 27th Annual National Service Learning Conference this week, from March 30 to April 2nd in Minneapolis, MN. The theme is “Educate – Ignite – Transform”.

My articles today and tomorrow will be dedicated to the hundreds of students, educators and government leaders from around the world who are gathering to share resources and ideas to improve their service learning efforts across the globe. It’s always an exciting and supportive event!

For more info, see http://www.servicelearningconference.org  and #SLC16

Kenny Washington- First Black Player in the Modern Day NFL

  In 1946 the Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington, the first African American player in the NFL modern era. This happened one year before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson. 
When the NFL started, in the 1920s, a few blacks played in the new league. But from 1934 to 1946, there were no black players in the NFL. There wasn’t an official rule against them, but there was an unwritten understanding among the teams that they would not allow black players into the league.

Some owners and coaches claimed that African Americans were not good enough for the NFL even though nine African American college football players were named all-American stars during those years. Even though the NFL had 10 teams in 1940 and each team drafted 20 players, not one black player was drafted.

Washington was one of the college stars who went undrafted. He was a running back who set rushing and passing records at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1939, Washington led the nation in total yards while also playing defensive back.

Washington also played baseball for the UCLA Bruins. His teammate on the UCLA football and baseball teams was Jackie Robinson.

Despite Washington’s incredible college career, no NFL team drafted him in 1940. For the next few seasons, Washington played in the smaller Pacific Coast Football League, where he earned all-league honors every year.

Washington finally got his chance to play in the NFL in 1946. The Rams agreed to allow African American players on the team after local black newspapers and the city’s stadium commission pressured the team to integrate.

Washington was 28 years old and had undergone five knee surgeries when he signed with the Rams. He was not as fast as he had been at UCLA. Still, Washington was among the leading rushers in the NFL during the second of his three seasons.

The Harlem Renaissance -Expressions of Freedom


by Robin Abrams-Tolden, M.Ed

The Harlem Renaissance, also known as the “New Negro Movement”, was a period during the 1920’s until the mid-1930’s when creativity of black arts, music, literature and culture exploded in America and Harlem in Manhattan was the headquarters.

During World War I, there was a Great Migration of African Americans from the South to Northern cities seeking to escape the Jim Crow laws of the former slave owning southern states.

In New York, most of them made their way to upper Manhattan, where the city’s local blacks were moving to take advantage of abundant housing. Harlem became a magnet for black intellectuals who began writing with a bold voice about what it meant to be a black American. Finally African Americans could freely express themselves through art, dance, music and literature.

Artists like Aaron Douglas captured the African-American experience visually, while writers like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston expressed the struggle and pride of black people in words.

The Jazz Age flourished during this period and even whites traveled to Harlem venues like the Cotton Club to hear musicians likes Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, who became one of America’s greatest popular composers.

Although the Great Depression of the 1930s put a damper on the high times, Harlem remained “the capital of black America for many years and blacks began to play a fuller role in American life. The Harlem Renaissance is remembered as the beginning of a great transformation or a rebirth for black people in America.


Dr. Carter G Woodson, The Father of Black History (1875-1950)

618ns0227889-01pm.tifCarter Godwin Woodson was born on December 19, 1875, in New Canton, Virginia, to former slaves, Anna Eliza Riddle Woodson and James Woodson. The fourth of seven children, young Woodson worked as a sharecropper and a miner to help his family until he was almost 20. Understanding the importance of gaining a proper education motivated him to earn a high school diploma in West Virginia and bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago in just a few years.  In 1912, Woodson became the second African American, following W.E.B. Dubois, to earn a PhD at Harvard University.

Passionate about history and painfully  aware of the lack of information about the accomplishments of blacks in 1915, Dr. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, which still exists today under the name, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).  

Under Woodson’s leadership, the Association created research and publication outlets for black scholars by establishing the Journal of Negro History (1916) and the Negro History Bulletin (1937).

In 1926, Dr. Woodson initiated the celebration of Negro History Week, which corresponded with the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976, this celebration was expanded to include the entire month of February, and today Black History Month is recognized throughout the country as people of all ethnic and social backgrounds discuss the black experience. Woodson’s desire was not that black people would have a separate history, but that black history would not be overlooked as an integral part of American history.
Woodson formed the Associated Publishers Press in 1921 to help black authors publish their work. and also wrote more than a dozen books over the years, including A Century of Negro Migration (1918), The History of the Negro Church (1921), The Negro in Our History (1922) and Mis-Education of the Negro (1933). 

Why We Still Need Black History Month


By Robin Abrams-Tolden, M.Ed

Do we still need a Black History Month? Well, is the history of African Americans well integrated into American history? Are the contributions of black people in America celebrated regularly outside of February? Sure, superior black athletes attract a lot of attention and recognition. Maybe it’s because of the money they generate for their “owners”.

But what about this year’s Academy Awards, which will air at the end of Black History Month? It appears that African Americans in the film industry have been overlooked. One might say that perhaps there wasn’t one black person who deserved to be nominated this year. However, Hollywood didn’t think that someone like Tyler Perry was worthy of their attention, so he created his own mega empire and proved them wrong. Just because someone says you’re not worthy, doesn’t make it true.

While it is clear that blacks have significantly impacted the development of the social, political, and economic structures of the United States and the world, Black History Month is necessary, not just to recollect a timeline of events and the profiles of a few important people, but also to remind Americans of the paths we’ve taken. Not so that we can disregard our diversity, but in a way that embraces diversity and stirs up a deeper appreciation of the struggles and triumphs of the black citizens of our country.

Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950), the founder of the original Negro History Week, once said: “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”

Black History Month is a catalyst that inspires all students to work toward their goals in spite of any adversity they might face, which expands beyond the boundaries of the month of February. Black History Month encourages deep conversations, stirs up the memories of the elders, and stimulates critical thinking in the young.

More about the “Father of Black History Month”, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, tomorrow…


“…Anybody Can Serve!” – MLK


I didn’t want to end the month of January without acknowledging the 87th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth.  While parades are nice, one of the best ways to honor his sacrifice is to serve others, because this is part of his legacy. Because he said “anybody” can serve, it motivates me to encourage everyone – no matter of age or economic status – to be involved in their communities.

I usually work with children and teens and demonstrate to them ways to serve others, but lately I have been moved to share the importance of service with adults. Community service learning is not just for students or for those sentenced to community service as a punishment.

Recently, a young lady was telling me how she couldn’t find a job in the field for which she had trained because she didn’t have enough experience. I asked her if she had considered volunteering in her area of expertise.  She hadn’t even thought that was an option!  Many smart people that I know volunteer in their communities if they find themselves out of work. Later, they find that they are both valued for their contributions and trained for future employment.

As I reflect on Dr. King’s service, I am reminded of the difference he made in the world. While each of us may not impact the world in the same way that Dr. King did, we can each impact someone’s life in a positive way through mentoring, volunteering or even random acts of kindness. Remember it not only impacts others, but by serving we can affect change in our own lives as well.


FREE eBook Today!

My new eBook about service learning can be downloaded on Amazon for FREE today Sunday Nov 8th.  A step by step guide for completing service learning with students K-12, it explains how to implement each phase of service learning and gives some real examples.

Let me know what you think!

Let’s Do This!: A Quick and Easy Guide to Service Learning

by Robin Abrams-Tolden


What Do Your T-Shirts Say About You?


Am I the only one who has an extensive collection of t-shirts from various events?  So I was in the process of doing a little decluttering, trying to fill up a box to be donated and I kept running across old t-shirts that I have been saving for years. Former clubs, sports teams, family reunions, charity fundraisers, employers, vacation souvenirs, etc. – each shirt with its own set of memories. Some had even been signed with names that are no longer familiar.

T-shirts are a good way to make a service learning project memorable. Recently, I saw some pictures on Instagram from a former student of mine. She and her friends were deeply involved in a paintball war – lots of fun!  Then I recognized the t-shirt she was wearing as one I had designed for our youth group over 10 years ago. I was surprised she still had it after finishing college, so I commented on her page, “hey, I remember that shirt!”  Later she replied that she felt bad that she got it all messy from paintball, but I was honored that she still had it.

I’ll bet that you can tell a lot about a person from their t-shirt collection!