Community Partner Toolkit

Download the entire document here: Community Partner Toolkit (pdf)
Go to a specific section:

  1. What Is Service Learning?
  2. What are the differences between Service Learning, Volunteerism & Internships?
  3. Examples of Service Learning Projects
  4. Benefits of Service Learning
  5. The Service Learning Partnership
  6. Roles & Responsibilities of the Community Partner
  7. How To Develop a Service Learning Project (CP's Perspective)
  8. Keys to Success as a Community Partner
  9. Best Practices in Managing Service Learners
  10. Working with Faculty & the Academic Calendar
  11. Guidelines for Effective Student Orientation
  12. Tips for Keeping Students Around
  13. Memorandum of Understanding (pdf)
  14. Community Partner Online Directory (Link)
  15. Service Learning Wish List (doc)

What is Service Learning?

Service Learning is a form of experiential education that integrates community service with academic instruction as it focuses on critical, reflective thinking and civic responsibility. Service Learning programs involve students in organized community service that address local needs, while developing their academic skills, sense of civic responsibility, and commitment to the community. Service Learning is related to but does not include cooperative education, practicum, or internship programs.

Service Learning is:

  • Different from volunteer efforts or community service. When students do community service they help to meet community needs through volunteering. In Service Learning, students go beyond this, by using the service experience as a foundation to examine themselves, their society, and their future.
  • Based on a reciprocal relationship in which the service reinforces and strengthens the learning, and the learning reinforces and strengthens the service.
  • Integrated into the academic curriculum so that students have structured opportunities to reflect critically on their experience. This reflection takes place through a mix of writing, reading, speaking, listening, and group discussions.
  • An opportunity for students to use newly acquired skills and knowledge in real-life situations in their own communities.

Service-learning can be used to TEACH1:

  • reality-based problem-solving skills
  • civic engagement
  • moral responsibility
  • social maturity
  • community/global awareness
  • planning and execution skills
  • teamwork
  • conflict resolution
  • interest in life-long learning
  • lifelong commitment to service

Service-learning ALWAYS:

  • Benefits both the student learner(s) and the community partner
  • Focuses on satisfying a genuine need in the community
  • Requires reflection
  • Places students in real-world situations and experiences

Service-learning MAY:

  • Involve direct service, indirect service, or advocacy
  • Occur in the classroom or out in the community
  • Involve a rural, suburban, or inner-city group of volunteers
  • Require funding or no funding at all
  • Take one class period or occur annually for years

Service-learning is NEVER:

  • An isolated service experience
  • A way to earn compensation
  • A form of punishment
  • Centered on the needs of the student or teacher ONLY

1 – “Community Partner: Service-Learning Toolkit” - Pittsburgh Cares

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What are the differences between Service Learning, Volunteerism and Internships?

Service Learning
A Service Learning course ensures that students not only participate in experiential education but also reflect upon what they are doing and evaluate what they are learning. Students earn college credit for the class when they meet the course requirements for the Service Learning requirement of the course.

Volunteerism is non-paid service that is generally not connected to classroom instruction and academic course credit. It is merely the giving of service without an academic or structured educational component.

Internships emphasize workplace learning and job skill development, whereas Service Learning emphasizes the student contributing to the community as they use their internship site as a vehicle for achieving course learning outcomes.

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Examples of Service Learning Projects

Child Development
Service: Make small activity boxes for children being cared for at a local hospital.
Learning:Study the emotional, physical, and intellectual effects of “play” on a child. Discuss further variances and implications if that child is under severe emotional and possibly physical distress.
Service Learning: Study emotional, physical, and intellectual effects of small motor “play” on children ages 1 – 12 years. Discuss the impact of a lack of play during dormant time spent within a hospital. Ask your students how they might feel if they were that child. Then, make small activity boxes to be donated to children being cared for at a local hospital. Arrange a time for your students to deliver the boxes, or share pictures with your students of the delivery, if possible. Reflect together on the impact of this service and how serving made your students feel.

Public Health
Service: Collect food items to be donated to a local homeless shelter.
Learning: Research the existing deficit in food donation and the hunger statistics in Lorain.
Service Learning: Research the deficits of food donation and hunger statistics in Lorain currently. Then, lead a local food drive to fill the needs you discovered and deliver the needed items to the appropriate shelters and food banks. Reflect on your experience and discuss how citizens might take action to prevent this deficit from growing or reoccurring in the future. Complete an action plan report to present to the local government and food bank, suggesting realistic actions others may take to reduce future deficits and promote self-sufficiency in the effected community.

Environmental Science
Service: Help a local nature reserve lay mulch to prepare for the winter.
Learning: Study the effect of erosion on the environment and the effect of preventative practices implemented to prevent the negative effects of erosion.
Service Learning: Study the effect of erosion on the environment and practices implemented to prevent negative effects. Research a local environment in danger of erosion and how you might prevent its negative effects. Then, partner with a local non-profit organization, or government, to implement the practice to help prevent erosion. Visit the location later in the year to analyze and reflect on your impact and results.

*Adopted from "Community Partner: Service Learning Toolkit" - Pittsburgh Cares.

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Benefits of Service Learning: Why is it worth the effort?


  • Gain a better understanding of course material.
  • Explore possible careers.
  • Develop new skills and enhance existing skills.
  • Have a variety of personal growth and development opportunities.
  • Experience improved self-esteem and personal satisfaction.
  • Develop enhanced critical thinking skills.
  • Experience real-life application of classroom knowledge.
  • Meet new people, make new friends, and develop job contacts.
  • Develop an enhanced sense of civic responsibility.
  • Build experiences that can be added to a resume.
  • LCCC STUDENTS: All LCCC Service Learning students receive a Certificate of Completion and a Graduation Medallion.


  • Improve student satisfaction, success, persistance and retention.
  • Better prepare students for work and transfer of other educational institutions.
  • Improve college-community relations.
  • Develop a stronger motivational base of instruction and learning.
  • Enhance learning opportunities.
  • Develop a broader conception of their educational role.
  • Increase public service delivery.
  • Reorient the educational process to meet real human needs.
  • Promote civic engagement.

Community Agencies:

  • Improve college-community relations.
  • Increase access to human, financial, and material resources.
  • Augment service delivery.
  • Increase human resources for problem solving.
  • Gain more contributions to meet human needs.
  • Increase their future civic support and commitment.
  • Provides short-term volunteers to meet community needs.
  • Provides potential long-term volunteers and potential recruits for agency employment.
  • Increases awareness of agency services and social issues within the community.
  • Community agencies gain the opportunity to participate in educational partnerships.
  • Invitation to the Annual Service Learning Celebration.

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The Service Learning Partnership

A successful service-learning partnership meets the needs of both partners: the collegiate partner and the community partner. As you proceed into this relationship, work to design an experience that meets your partner’s needs and your own.

The Collegiate Partner Must Consider:

  • How will this service-learning experience strengthen our course and help us to reach our learning objectives?
  • Will the collegiate partner’s department, school, or overall institution support this? Will this be approved by my curriculum committee?
  • Does our campus have a service-learning office or volunteer office that can support the implementation of this experience? Is there an outside source that may support this?
  • When and how often will the faculty meet with the community partner to plan this experience or evaluate this experience if it is ongoing?
  • What type of transportation will be necessary? Can the community partner help to arrange this?
  • Will we need to provide any necessary funding or resources to implement any components of this experience or to ensure this experience meets the needs of our course? Will the community partner provide any of this?
  • How will we assess this experience within the structure of our coursework?

The Community Partner Must Consider:

  • Does this service-learning project directly support our mission?
  • Do we have a well-defined project for the students to complete at this time that is in line with their learning objectives, skill-set(s), and interest(s)?
  • Do we have a staff person(s) available to serve as the contact person for our collegiate partner to facilitate this project throughout its duration, including preparation, service, and reflection?
  • To what extent will our staff and organization be involved in the development and implementation of this project (i.e. how many staff or staff hours will we need to dedicate to this project)? Can we accommodate this class size or number of volunteers over the determined period of time?
  • Will this project require additional resources? Do we have access to these resources or can our collegiate partner or an outside source provide them?
  • Is this project or the impact of this project sustainable after this class/project is over? If not, will that be detrimental to our clients or mission?

Remember to consider both sides to develop a successful service learning partnership.

*Adopted from "Community Partner: Service Learning Toolkit" - Pittsburgh Cares

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Roles & Responsibilities of the Community Partner

In the Beginning
1. Complete & sign the Memorandum of Understanding and turn in to Service Learning program staff.
2. Complete an on-site Community Partner Orientation with program staff.
3. Discuss organizational needs with program staff; utilize the Wish List Form.
4. Complete organizational profile for the online Community Partner Directory.
5. Be willing to meet with program staff and faculty members to develop service learning projects that both address community need AND course objectives.

Before the Project:
1. Consider the risk of having students work onsite and implement procedures to manage that risk.
2. Make sure all supplies to complete the project are available.
3. Notify staff that the project is taking place at your agency.
4. Send specific information to the volunteers if necessary (changes to the project, parking information, supply needs, etc.)
5. Provide a sign-in sheet for the volunteers each time they serve your organization to provide a record of their service for both your organization and the volunteers.

During the Project:
1. Have all students sign-in.
2. Provide a brief orientation including your agency’s mission, programs, needs, and relevant policies and procedures. (best practices include a video or client testimonials)
3. Give the volunteers a tour of your entire facility, so they may learn about the overall work you do (outside of the segment of your organization they will interact with during their service).
4. Explain the day’s project(s) and any logistical issues (where to get water, location of restrooms, where to go if someone is injured, etc.)

In between Service Experiences:
1. Reflect on each experience.
2. Ask the students and faculty/leader for feedback on each experience – what went well, what might be improved?
3. Keep the lines of communication open. Email the faculty leader following each service experience and a week (varies) prior to the next one to encourage communication between your organization and their class.
4. If a long period of time exists in between service experiences, visit the students’ class to discuss these topics in person.

After each Service Experience and at the Completion of the Service-learning Experience:
1. Thank the students.
2. Explain the specific IMPACT the students made by doing the project.
3. Student will be collecting data upon their project impact. Be willing to assist them in gathering the data from organizational records.
4. Discuss whether or not the service learners are interested in volunteering or otherwise supporting your organization again in the future.
5. Discuss future interactions, if appropriate and in alignment with a continued service-learning project experience. Is there anything you or the volunteers would change about this experience prior to the next time you are scheduled to serve together? Is there anything the volunteers can prepare or bring with them when they serve next time?
6. If possible, share any pictures you may have taken during the project with the volunteer leader following each service experience.

*Adopted from "Community Partner: Service Learning Toolkit" - Pittsburgh Cares

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How To Develop A Service Learning Project (A Community Partners Perspective)

1. Keep your mission in mind! Keep your organization’s goals in mind!
2. Answer the questions:
    a. What would your organization like to do that it doesn’t have time to do?
    b. What would your organization like to know that it don’t have time to research?
3. Divide your answers into a series of smaller questions.
4. Now answer these questions:
    a. How many students would it take to complete this project?
    b. How many reasonable hours will it take a student to complete this project?
    c. Who will supervise the project and students?
    d. Who will conduct the orientation?
    e. What resources do the students need to be successful?
    f. What knowledge and skill level of students do you require?
    g. What academic disciplines will the project attract?
5. Write up the project, including the information above, as well as answers to these questions:
    a. What product or service do you expect at the end of the semester?
    b. When will students begin this project?
    c. What action steps are necessary to complete the project?
    d. How much latitude do students have with the project?
    e. How often will students meet with the project supervisor?
    f. How will you evaluate the project or service at the end of the semester?
6. Remember, the more time and effort you put into forming a collaborative relationship with faculty, the better the product/service will be! The more care that goes into this process, the more likely your partnership will continue for many semesters!

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Keys to Success as a Community Partner

Remember, Service Learners are STUDENTS, not volunteers.Keep in mind that Service Learning students want to help meet community needs, but they also are using the experience as a basis for understanding their college course. Students are receiving academic credit for learning through their service efforts.

Plan ahead. Complete a needs assessment with staff members to allow you to more effectively use Service Learning students to meet the needs of your agency. Are there tasks that you or your staff are now doing that could be divided up and given to a student? Is there a project that you’ve always wanted to do but never had any time to organize? Positions that carry some degree of responsibility and involve client contact are ideal. Do not be afraid to give the student a chance to show that he/she can handle the responsibility.

Be selective. Be aware that some students may not match your needs. You will make that final selection of Service Learning students placed at your agency. If a student’s qualifications and motivations are not harmonious with your needs, it is your right and obligation to reject this student.

Provide orientation and training. Students require orientation to your agency, staff, and clients. Familiarize them with the mission and philosophy of your agency as well as the community issues your agency is trying to address.

Be realistic with your expectations for students. Remember that students must complete their Service Learning projects with the semester. Please adapt accordingly.

Say Thanks! Like everyone, students want to be welcomed and appreciated. There are many forms of recognition. It can be as simple as a letter or some other acknowledgement of a job well done. Students also need to see how their work is important to your agency’s mission.

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Best Practices in Managing Service Learners

  • Educate your service-learners. Share pamphlets, brochures, videos, clientele testimonials, and your own personal experiences with the students, so they understand your mission and their purpose.
  • Be sure to notify the staff at your agency when students are coming to your site so that everyone is greeted with respect and enthusiasm, allowing for the students to encounter a welcoming first impression.
  • Some colleges request that their students provide evidence of their time at the agency. Consider providing a sign-in sheet.
  • Greet the students and provide a name tag for each student.
  • Provide a brief orientation to your agency including the agency mission, programs, needs and impact.
  • Introduce key staff members assisting with the service-learning project.
  • Clearly identify the goals for the service-learning project
  • Review host site logistics (i.e. location of restrooms, smoking areas, refreshment area with water, rules and policies of host site).
  • Provide clear instructions related to supplies, duties, and work areas.
  • Have staff members available to guide service-learners through tasks.
  • Gather students at the end of the project to recognize their impact, and reflect on the project.
  • Thank all students for their time and support of your agency!
  • Provide faculty partners with feedback on student participation and the outcome of the project.

*Adopted from "Community Partner: Service Learning Toolkit" - Pittsburgh Cares

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Working with Faculty & the Academic Calendar

Some of the most rewarding Service Learning partnerships happen when faculty and partners connect to set up an opportunity for students. The ideal service learning projects are those formed between the partner and the faculty member and continue each time the course is offered. This creates a sustainable partnership where both parties understand expectations and can rely upon each other’s needs.

If you are trying to connect with faculty, make your initial contact three to four weeks before the term begins. Faculty members usually begin course prep for the next semester a month before hand. If you are trying to connect for fall term, you may need to contact them before spring term has ended. Many faculty members are off campus during the summer months. Keep in mind that while the rest of the world seems to operate on a regular calendar, everything at a college happens on the academic calendar.

Many of our students work 20-40 hours per week in addition to taking care of their families. While some can and do make a time commitment beyond what is required for the course, some cannot. Don’t give up on those students, try to think of other projects you could use help with that don’t require the training/commitment that your usual volunteer opportunities need.

View LCCC's current Academic Calendar here.

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Guidelines for Effective Student Orientation

Once the project is agreed upon and a specific assignment is determined, the Service Learning student should be provided with a thorough orientation just like your normal volunteers. The orientation should make the student feel accepted and clarify his or her role, responsibilities, and expectations.

A general orientation should include:

  • A brief history and explanation of the organization and current programs.
  • A tour of the facility (including restrooms)
  • An introduction to the staff.
  • A review of the rules, regulations, confidentiality policies, dress code, and timekeeping requirements.
  • Cover safety issues related to the respective position and responsibilities.
  • A discussion of the Service Learning student’s role in the agency, including specific tasks and responsibilities. Please acquaint the student with any agency procedures for notifying the agency if the student has to miss a scheduled day.
  • An explanation of any jargon or language used by staff.

Remember Service Learning students are there to learn and serve, so don’t hesitate to talk with them about the issues facing your organization. They will benefit from learning about social structures and policies that make your work important to the populations you serve.

Also remember, many times, Service Learners continue with their service activities with organizations long after their projects have been completed. If the relationship is developed from the beginning, the more likely students will continue. 

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Tips for Keeping Students Around

  • After recruiting volunteers, find or develop opportunities for them to get involved right away.
  • Have clear goals and expectations of what volunteer will do.
  • BE FLEXIBLE- have volunteer projects on weekends & weekdays, morning and evenings. This kind of diversity of opportunity will enable students to balance school, work, family, and service!
  • Make sure volunteers understand the importance of the task they are doing, and how it fits into the overall project / agency / mission.
  • Never allow people to feel that you wasted their time or that they weren't really needed.
  • Provide food & refreshments after projects.
  • Provide a structure so that those who want to can take on roles of greater responsibility.
  • Give honest and sincere praise, say "Thank you", make people glad they came and participated.

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