“Middle schoolers are at this amazing age where they want to make a difference and just need the opportunity,” says Rebecca Yutzy, learning support teacher, who coordinates service opportunities for the 7th grade class together with co-sponsor, Nick Gardner.
Each EMS middle and high school class creates opportunities for students to feel they are making a difference through the school’s service-learning commitment: at least one full-class service project each fall and spring.
Service-learning gets students out of classrooms “which is fun for everyone,” says Yutzy, “especially for those who don’t always shine in traditional academic settings.”
Yutzy and Gardner, band teacher, talked in an early class meeting about the “why” behind EMS’ service-learning activities. They watched Matthew West’s “Do Something” video and reflected on the ways “God created us to be His hands and feet in the world.”
There’s also more to it than “doing something” for others, Yutzy says. Class sponsors observe the skills students learn during these experiences, such as how to use tools and even how to make healthy compost, and how to live more sustainably. They are also introduced to potential career opportunities and gain valuable interpersonal skills.
This year, 7th grade service experiences have included:
- Doing crafts with residents of Pleasant View Homes, a center for adults with intellectual and physical disabilities.
- Helping residents during a fall festival at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Center.
- Working on the grounds at Jubilee Climate Farm, a “living laboratory and education center for just and sustainable living practices” operated by New Community Project in Harrisonburg.
Students “begged” to return to Pleasant View Home, Yutzy reports, noting the common feedback of, “this is so much fun!”
Evangeline Bixler reflected about the VMRC service, “I learned that taking care of elderly people is really challenging, but for the most part, really fun! I really enjoyed spending time with the residents and seeing them smile when they saw lollipops that they had as children, and playing ring toss with pumpkins.”
Isabela Jackson enjoyed Jubilee Farm because “it taught me to be more self-conscious about the way I use my resources such as plastic. I also loved planting trees and had some hilarious moments with my friends.”
“I hope these opportunities help students to see outside of their bubbles,” says Yutzy. “I want them to see people who are homeless or refugees, those with intellectual disabilities, as well as those that are much older and younger than they are. They start to realize that they may have it ‘rough’ sometimes, but others have big challenges too.”
The class of ’26 (9th grade) service this fall took them to Hillandale Park. A city Parks and Rec Facebook post reported: “Always great to have high school students out to help with our local trails. Eastern Mennonite School students joined us last week to tune up the Hillandale pump track and work on digging out drains on the green trails.”
Service not only performs a task, Yutzy summarizes. “It changes your heart and makes it possible for us to see each others’ big hearts.”