How can service learning benefit the most at-risk youth?  Get IN Chicago‘s most recent summit, Serving With Purpose, brought together national leaders with local service providers, researchers, funders, and community members to discuss and dissect the best solutions for our city.  The public event, held at The Chicago Community Trust, hosted 75 guests and focused on how our community can work together to ensure the effectiveness and reach of service learning programs.

service summit snap

“Kids deserve effective help – and doing that starts with knowing that we’re giving them effective help,” said Tom Wilson, Get IN Chicago Board Co-Chair and CEO of Allstate. “Accountability and measurement is hard, but we have a responsibility to give our kids the best help possible.”

Sasha Tuzel of Mission Measurement presented a case study of how her organization helped non-profit Free The Children create meaningful impact measures.  Free The Children, a family of organizations that includes We.Org and WE Day, aims to increase academic engagement, active citizenship, and college/workforce readiness.

Ms. Tuzel recommended all organizations start by looking at their mission statement as they craft outcomes to track.  She also stressed the importance of counting these outcomes instead of activities.  “For example, the number of times we hand out a worksheet doesn’t tell us much,” she explained.  “It’s more important to look at the effects.  Did grades improve? Did attendance increase?”

Many of these impacts can take years to appear.  For the short-term, Ms. Tuzel suggested surveys to measure outcomes.  Although Free The Children’s surveys involve self-reported data, Mission Measurement sampled both youth and teachers as a way to cross-reference and verify the results.  For instance, a student survey might ask, ‘Do others see you as a leader in your school now?’ and the teacher might be asked how leadership abilities of certain students have improved.

Most of all, Ms. Tuzel emphasized that measurement data can help an organization’s programs evolve.  “This data is useful to demonstrate impact, but it can also help us improve that impact,” she said.


In the second part of the program, Get IN Chicago Executive Director Dr. Toni Irving sat down for a conversation with Delores Morton, President of Programs at Points of Light.  The Points of Light ServiceWorks program uses volunteer service as a strategy to help 25,000 underserved youth and young adults to develop the skills they need to prepare for greater college and career success.

“We have 6.7 million opportunity youth in the U.S – youth who are disconnected from school and college. That’s 17% of our kids,” Ms. Morton said.  “But service can provide them a chance to connect with other youth and a greater community.”

As an example, she pointed to the ServiceWorks program in Gage Park with Casa Central.  “We worked with a small group of students, all recommended as opportunity youth by the principal,” she said. “At the end of the program, we graduated 12 students – but 300 people attended that ceremony.  300 people had come to know the kids over the course of the year through their work and projects, and now, they are there to celebrate and support them.”


The conversation also touched on recruitment strategies for opportunity youth.  Ms. Morton noted that tying a program to a young person’s long-term goals is usually the best approach.  “Kids don’t want to hear about learning soft skills or how to network,” she explained.  “But realizing that this service learning project could be the first step to college or a job gets them in the door.”

When one audience member asked how funders can build meaningful relationships with nonprofits and communities, Dr. Irving pointed out that most donors are eager to be more check writers.  She mentioned Chicago Cares as an example of an organization working to bridge the gap between corporations and on-the-ground workers – and pointed out that Chicago Cares services and trainings are free for youth and nonprofit partners.

In closing, Dr. Irving stressed the importance of community, connections, and continued conversation. “We need to create ripple effects, starting on blocks and communities, in order to reach the kids who needs us,” she said.  “To get there, we all need to understand what we’re doing now, what still needs to be done, and what we can do.  Our goal for these events is to get everyone singing from the same hymn book so that we can move forward together.”


Stay tuned for future posts with more information about Mission Measurement’s Free the Children case study and Points of Light’s ServiceWorks program!