Skip to main content

Does Service Work? Lessons from the ServiceWorks Program

ServiceWorks Evaluation

As part of our efforts to understand, promote, and strengthen best practices in civic engagement, Tisch College often evaluates programs and organizations—especially those that seek to engage youth in civic life. Tisch College Associate Dean and former CIRLCE Director Peter Levine recently conducted an evaluation of Points of Light’s ServiceWorks program, which engages thousands of disadvantaged teenagers and young adults (known as “Scholars” in the program) across the United States. The young people, ages 16-24, participate in a series of about five educational modules designed to enhance their skills for work and higher education. Of those who completed the exit survey as part of the learning partnership, almost all were either in high school (77 percent) or held jobs (33 percent). They receive support from AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America), other adult volunteers, and/or professional program staff and teachers at sites including, among others, a juvenile detention facility, a community-based program for teen mothers, a full-service community development corporation connected to an important church, and several large urban school systems. Scholars conduct community service projects, including a capstone project that they choose and design.

The evaluation is based on original interviews, review of pre-test and post-test survey data from Scholars and VISTAs, and a close review of the program’s documents. Key findings include:

  • The program’s design is consistent with previous research that shows that giving disadvantaged youth opportunities to serve their communities also strengthens skills, habits, and dispositions that help them in school, college, and careers.
  • Numerous former participants report highly concrete benefits, from support for college application and enrollment to obtaining specific jobs thanks to contacts in the program. They also describe subtler shifts in their core values and expectations for themselves.
  • The meetings and events that occur through ServiceWorks feel to many participants like islands of purposive, constructive, and focused work amid chaos and dysfunction that prevails elsewhere in their schools and neighborhoods.