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This Week (Group Starting Edition) -- Service Projects

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Hey all!  I hope you’ve had a great and successful week since my last email.  Last week we talked about using the SSA brand.  This week I’d like to talk a little bit about one of our specific focus areas: service.  Service is a great way to not only to improve your campus and community but it is also a good way to strengthen your group and bond together.  Service projects can be big or small, can involve just your group or can involve several, and can focus on many different things.  So, having said that, let us dive into some of the more specific aspects of service.

Service is an important part of the Secular Student Alliance mission and it is an important part of what our affiliates do.  In today’s world where atheists and the non-religious are demonized, bullied, mistrusted, and hated, it is important that we remind people that we are human being just like everyone else and that we do work hard to improve our communities.  Engaging in a service project then not only helps to improve your community and campus but it also helps to dispel some of the rumors and prejudices against atheists.  

So, if you decide you want to engage in a service project, how do you go about doing one?  Well, first off, I would recommend having a discussion in your group about how much time, effort, and resources you want to put into the project.  Depending on your goals and the resources you have available, your project can either be large scale (like going across the country to help build houses in disaster areas) or it can smaller (like helping out at a local soup kitchen).  

Once you decide what your aim and goals should be, you’ll need to start brainstorming some ideas about what it is that you want to do.  Say you’ve decided that you’d like to have a bake sale and raise money for a charity.  You could ask your members if there are any causes or organizations that are special to them that they’d like to donate to.  I know a group who had a member that suffered from a rare medical condition and their group worked with him to help raise money for a research and advocacy program for his disease.  Perhaps your group is also really passionate about animals and wants to raise money for the ASPCA or perhaps you want to help raise money for Non-Believers Giving Aid (a group I highly recommend).  No matter what activity you choose and what level of involvement you want, it’s important to make sure that you have a clear cut idea of what your goals are and a specific organization or activity planned.

Once you have your goals in mind and an activity planned, you’ll have to start planning it.  This is where our campus organizing team can really help.  Let’s say that you are planning to do the fundraising idea that I talked about earlier.  If you need help organizing your table, getting tabling supplies, coming up with ideas to attract people to your table, or anything else, that’s exactly why we’re here.  Make sure to delegate specific tasks to people as well and make sure they follow through and get them done.  Make a realistic time-table or schedule about when things need to be done and who is doing them (this goes for any activity, but especially for something as important as service).

Another thing you’ll have to decide is if you want to involve another group or not.  The student organization I ran at Wright State cooperated with both religious and non-religious groups to raise money for charity and work at soup kitchens.  There are a lot of benefits to working with another organization, too. Firstly, they can help you organize, so all the work isn’t on your shoulders.  Secondly, their members can help you, too.  This means that you won’t have to worry about manning a table or going to the soup kitchen alone, because there will be more people to help.  Thirdly, you now have both your resources and their resources to work with as well.  Finally, it can add diversity, great conversation, and more when you work with different groups, and that goes double for working with religious groups (which I highly recommend).  

Another interesting idea you could try is to combine service with one of the other focus areas. For instance, what if you want to do something educational, but also incorporate service into it?  Why not have a guest lecturer and sell tickets that can go to charity?  Or if you want to combine activism and service?  Raise money for a group that is helping fight for the separation of church and state.  I highly encourage you to get creative when thinking about ideas for service.  The more unique and tailored a service project is for your particular goals and mission, the more it’ll benefit you and your community.

So, no matter what you choose to do, I believe that service is probably one of (if not the) most important aspect of this movement.  It can really help break down a lot of the negative stereotypes that plague those of us who are non-religious and it can be a great way to really improve our community and have a hand in our future.  And remember, if nothing else, volunteer work and community service look great on resumes and CV’s, so if anything, do it for your own self-interest!  I hope you’ve found this useful, and as always, please let me know if you have any comments, questions, suggestions, concerns, or anything else.  I look forward to seeing you all next week!

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