Community service, the act of voluntarily contributing to the populace, teaches valuable lessons about the responsibilities of citizens to society. The American people's fondness for solving problems through voluntary organizations is legendary. Vital services are provided to the needy through thousands of volunteer organizations. Those services include needs that would otherwise not be provided by the federal, state or city government. These organizations demonstrate concern for those in need and a community commitment to voluntarism that is essential to the future of the nation.
Federal and local governments provide funding through agencies. These agencies are involved in community service as well as educational programs. Most public service agencies have community or citizen involvement, which is designed to provide support and assist in the decision-making process of the agency. Citizen involvement is mandated by the government as a prerequisite for obtaining the necessary funds. These agencies were established to oversee community needs, both in services and education.
The first step in adult education for community development is to gain an understanding of exactly what the needs of the community are. The word need is viewed as the gap between the present level of performance and the level that is desired. Need can also be defined as the service that is required to effect change. It is important to recognize what the needs are in order to address the problem and find a solution. In the case of adult education, the ideas and philosophies of the educator play an important role in formulating the definition of need. If the adult educator believes that the cause of unemployment is illiteracy, that individual will plan adult basic education courses.
Community service as an educational tool is not a new phenomenon in the field of higher education. However, there is still a lack of continuity between classrooms and residential communities. As a result, community service as a component of the educational process is being encouraged by state and local leaders. Service-learning initiatives have become a high school graduation requirement in many states. Community service helps the student develop, learn, reflect and apply vocational and academic skills. Service learning is different from regular volunteering since the student has an opportunity to reflect on the experience, and it provides the student with the motivation to learn. It helps students bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world, and they learn and appreciate the experience.
It has often been said that in order to enhance democracy and build a sense of community within a classroom, there is a need for service learning and multicultural education. That allows the student and teacher to engage in conversation and discussions about the meaning of community, especially as it relates to a diverse culture in a democratic nation. These discussions are of great importance as they lie at the heart of our survival as a democracy. M. Horton, in his book The Long Haul (1990) described democracy as "a philosophical concept, meaning that people are free and empowered to make collectively the decisions that affect their lives." Educators can contribute to building a community by talking to and asking students to imagine themselves as part of a larger community.
Research on social responsibility has proven the importance of making the practice of citizenship a crucial part of education because students learn that through service they can become better citizens. The Wisconsin Model of Community Education is the base used for developing community education programs. The model provides a framework to implement and strengthen community education. It contains a set of community education principles that include:
• Self-determination: The local people are best placed to identify community needs.
• Self-help: People can best be served when they are encouraged to help themselves. When people assume responsibility for their own well-being, they acquire independence.
• Leadership development: It is important to use local citizens in leadership roles.
• Localization: Activities should always be held in locations of easy public access to ensure the greatest participation.
• Inclusiveness: All community programs, services and activities should involve the broadest cross-section of community citizens.
• Responsiveness: It is important to offer programs and services that address the ever-changing needs of the constituents.