By: Lucia Couto, STC Newark Intern (Newark Arts HS ’17, Harvard University ’21)

In community service projects, the first step is often to analyze a community to better understand its needs and gaps. One very important voice in all of this work is the community itself; yet, rarely do we see a member of a community take on these projects with the resources needed to address them. 

With the Prudential Spirit of Community Service Program, coordinated by Schools That Can (STC) Newark, not only are these projects created and run by members of the community, but they are created and run by arguably the most important members of that community: the youth. This month, for the third year in a row, STC Newark and volunteers from throughout Prudential brought together seventh and eighth graders from several schools across Newark, giving them this task: identify a problem in your community and create your own service project to address it. Students were then introduced to methods for assessing what their community needs, such as community and asset mapping. The students are now mapping their communities so that they can identify one main issue to address. They will return to Prudential monthly to work with their volunteers to create and implement a project to address it. Backed by the intimate knowledge they have of their communities, they are the most well-equipped to identify what their community’s needs are and in the best position to solve them. 

As a student also born and raised in the North Ward of Newark, seeing these students engage with the task at hand was truly remarkable. Instantaneously, students were identifying key issues, such as littering, parks needing cleaning, and even the water crisis. They could immediately jump into the problems within their communities, and when they realized it would be their job to create a service project that would address this issue, the possibilities seemed endless. 

What may have struck me the most was seeing the level of student engagement. The investment in the future of Newark starts with these young students; they are the future leaders of our city and beyond. To instill in them the importance of community service, as well as the power they hold even at a young age, helps them to buy in to their community even more than they previously did. This program does an excellent job giving students the tools to assess their community so as to make their projects as impactful as possible. It also gives students the confidence to believe they have everything they need to be successful and make an impact with any project they take on. 

I, for one, cannot wait to see what comes of these projects. The students of Newark are special and hold so much talent and knowledge. When given the right support, they can do anything that they set their mind to. And now, they know that they are not just a member of their community, but they can be a leader in their community; they are the change-makers their communities need.