Vital Village Network: Service Learning and Leadership Model

This story was originally published through 100 Million Healthier Lives and is brought to you through partnership with 100 Million Healthier Lives and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement.

“Fundamental to the development of a community is the enrichment of the individuals that call it home” - Vital Village Member, 2014

Vital Village is a Network of residents and agencies committed to maximizing child, family and community wellbeing.

Our Network uses a Service Learning and Leadership Model  to create opportunities for every community member to advance along a leadership trajectory to build community capacity and engagement. There are five components to the Service Learning and Leadership Model:

  1. Recognize and Appreciate Existing Community Leadership
  2. Co-Design Leadership Development Development Opportunities
  3. Civic Engagement Service Commitment
  4. Strategic Alliances and Leverage Partner Resources
  5. Ongoing Mentorship

Leadership Summit 2017

The Service learning and Leadership Model is a community capacity building strategy applied across our projects. Here, we highlight how we apply the 5 components of the Service Learning and Leadership Model to our Certificate in Leadership and Advocacy.

MA State House Visit 2017

The Certificate in Leadership and Advocacy is a three-part certificate at Urban College of Boston that was co-created and currently co-taught by Vital Village staff and Network partners. The certificate is for community residents seeking to further develop leadership and advocacy skills, expand their mentorship circle and partnerships with community-based organizations, and advance towards greater leadership positions in the community where they can continue to organize, mobilize, and advocate for families and children, and  gain access to additional platforms to promote child health and wellbeing across Boston neighborhoods.

Annually, community residents apply for the certificate in the summer. Accepted applicants become certificate fellows and receive a scholarship to enroll in the following courses at Urban College of Boston:

  • Fall Semester: Foundations in Community Advocacy
  • Spring Semester: Community Advocacy: From Knowledge to Action
  • Spring Semester Externship: Advocacy and Leadership: From Action to Community Practice

1. Recognize and Appreciate Existing Community Leadership

Expertise extends far beyond training or formal education. We believe that lived experience in a community, engaging with systems, and caregiving for others uniquely equips residents to be community leaders.

Certificate Example: Fellows design their own advocacy project for their externship based on solutions they are passionate about lifting up in their own neighborhoods. Additionally, fellows take trips to visit the Massachusetts State House to educate legislators—elected officials and key decision makers—about issues they care deeply about. Prior to State House visits, fellows prepare for advocacy meetings and collect relevant data and stories to advance their advocacy goals during weekly seminar classes with fellow classmates, Erica Pike (professor and Vital Village staff), and advocacy expert Roxanne Reddington-Wilde (Network partner of Boston ABCD).

MA State House Visit 2018

"Class has been amazing and has helped me so much with all the current work that I am doing in my community." - Certificate Fellow '19, when at educational speaking event by an invite from Sen. DiDomenico an Sen. Chaing-Diaz

2. Co-Design Leadership Development Opportunities

Peer-Advocate Action Roundtable 2015

Sharing the Model 2019

The Network has reflected on a widespread inequity that exists in our neighborhoods: community residents devoting hours of service leadership to community transformation efforts but not receiving acknowledgment or credentials that match their growth and expertise. Using component #1 of this model, we listen to and work with existing community leaders in identifying areas of interest (e.g. advocacybreastfeeding support & lactation professional developmentconflict resolution, etc.)  and finding or co-designing leadership development opportunities.

Certificate Example: During Vital Village's 2013 strategic planning year, the Design Team identified advocacy as a key avenue to prevent and address social and material hardships. In 2014 and 2015, we collaboratively piloted the Peer-Advocate Action Roundtable. In 2014, we surveyed 175 individuals and the majority expressed interest in receiving college credit for service. Today, every Fellow receives college credit for completing the Certificate in Leadership and Advocacy.

3. Civic Engagement Service Commitment

Our leadership trainings or workshops  are offered to community residents on scholarships. Each training has a limited amount of spots. For a training spot, community residents complete an application through Vital Village. Each accepted applicant attends trainings on scholarships funded by grants that support Vital Village. As a part of being a scholarship recipient, community members have civic engagement service commitment afterwards. These include opportunities to (1) apply and practice what one learns from their leadership training through service in the community and (2) participate in regular reflections with their peer cohorts to further grow in one's leadership and skills.

Certificate Example: As a part of their service commitment for receiving full scholarships to cover the cost of tuition for all three-parts of the certificate, fellows participate fully in the two-semester course & 90 hour externship. In addition to coursework and completion of the externship, recipients are expected to attend the annual Vital Village Network Leadership Summit, present at one Network Connection Meeting during the academic year, and provide a creative summary (blog post, TED-style talk, or other medium) of their experience.

Fellow Presentations June 2019

Certificate Graduation June 2019

4. Strategic Alliances and Leveraging Partner Resources

Collaborating, aligning, and collectively using the diverse strengths, resources, and efforts across our Network members and partners enriches and sustains leadership development and capacity building.

Certificate Example: Over 40% of the certificate’s class lectures are delivered by Network members and partners who share their experience as advocates for children and families. Fellows also design and fulfill advocacy projects for their externships at over 10 Network partner organizations each year. Our 2019 externship site partners were: Boston Public SchoolsNuestra ComunidadAction for Boston Community DevelopmentBoston Public Health CommissionMattapan Food and Fitness CoalitionCitizens for Juvenile JusticeFamily Nurturing Center, 365 Dad, and LIPSTICK (Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killing).

5. Ongoing Mentorship

Vital Village has a diverse membership base with an abundance of community experts that operate in environments where resources and information are mutually exchanged. The Network encourages peer mentorship by creating opportunities for peers to share their expertise, while also providing meaningful opportunities to expand social networks and connect with other leaders committed to the same goals.

Certificate Example: Certificate classes are designed to create a learning lab for students to share their knowledge and leadership experience with one another, so there are opportunities for students to mentor and learn from one another’s community leadership experience built into the curriculum. Additionally, Network partners at externship placements serve as mentors to apply advocacy skills in different community settings.

Certificate Graduation June 2019

 Related Topics

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Civic Engagement