Published On: November 10, 2020
Home>Participatory Budgeting>Community Service in the Time of COVID-19

Community service projects provide some of the coolest high school experiences. Car washes! Bake sales! Blood drives! Cleaning up parks and playgrounds! Hanging out with friends while doing deeds that help others! And although some schools require it for graduation, the reality is that community service is fun, satisfying, and looks pretty good on a college application.

However, unless you’re a programmer who can participate in a hackathon, most community service projects happen in person. This means that another thing COVID is screwing up is high school community service. Students seeking to complete their project requirements for high school graduation or certain honors programs, such as the National Honor Society, are facing significant challenges.


Participatory Budgeting as community service or capstone project

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a fantastic way to perform community service (or fulfill the requirements of a capstone project). The results of PB programs directly benefit the people involved. For example:

  • Many PB programs support the entire school
  • Classroom or group-focused PB efforts may fund targeted communities—such as the choir, the band, or a sports team
  • High school students can also lead or participate in community-focused PB programs that promote even larger degrees of engagement

Traditional PB programs employ in-person activities, which means they’re subject to the same  COVID-related challenges as most other forms of community service. FirstRoot’s online PB solution provides an alternative for community service during the pandemic. With a small amount of planning, PB can do far more than help students look good on a college application.


Making the most of Community service PB

Participatory Budgeting as a form of community service should mean more than just volunteering your time to help others. Instead, consider participatory Budgeting an opportunity for you to gain valuable skills that can help you succeed. Consider the following:

1. What skills would you like to add?

Participatory Budgeting programs are pretty magical ways to increase your skills. Here are a few examples:

  • Leadership: Practice leadership by working with teachers and school administrators as you create the program, secure funding, and guide the effort through all phases
  • Design Thinking: Hone your Design Thinking skills as you understand and develop novel solutions to problems
  • Finance and budgeting: Learn how money really works by managing a budget and determining which proposals are operating vs. capital expenses
  • Civics: Help all participants move from “What’s good for me?” to “What’s good for the community?”

These core skills are present in every PB program. You choose which ones you want to highlight.

2. What program would you contribute to?

Would you like to organize a school-wide campaign or something focused on your passion and interests? While you may get more money for a school-wide program, you may get more satisfaction from working on a topic that intrigues you.

3. How much time can you devote?

Participatory Budgeting programs can be organized into different durations.

  • A one-week sprint is suitable when you have a smaller number of students and a smaller budget.
  • A four-to-six-week short cycle is best when you have a moderate number of students and a larger budget.
  • A three-to-six-month long cycle is ideal for a larger number of students, such as the entire school.

Students leaders should expect to spend a few hours a week on short- and long-cycle programs.

4. Do you want a quantifiable impact?

Many community service projects, such as creating a garden or painting a mural, are difficult to evaluate. One of the nice things about Participatory Budgeting is that it creates quantifiable results: You will know how many people participated, how many ideas were created, how much money was distributed, and how the money was spent. In some cases, you’ll be able to directly measure the impact of your program in your community.