6 Ways to Mix Service-Based Learning with Nature Studies

Service Learning & Nature Studies

By Andrea Caluori-Rivera
MassLIFT AmeriCorps Member at Hilltown Land Trust & Kestrel Land Trust

Learn about different bird species and habitat! Building a birdhouse is a great activity to do on a rainy afternoon that incorporates many skills and interests (woodworking, building, design, citizen science). There are many things to consider before building a birdhouse so take a look at Mass Audubon’s informational site on birdhouses to get started.

Service learning is a great way to encourage active citizenship and a strong environmental ethic.  Last weekend, I sat down with fellow MassLIFT AmeriCorps member, Nick Atherton, to talk about his role as the Service Learning Coordinator at Mount Grace Land Trust and to learn how to incorporate service learning into nature studies projects.

Nick’s primary role is to partner with local schools by creating service-learning opportunities for students that connect them to the outdoors and cultivate environmental awareness. His recent collaborations include interpretive sign making for local trails and research projects on the socio-economic benefits associated with having access to pristine and healthy eco-systems.  He also assists classes with property monitoring of local town trails, and is in the process of helping a middle school class create and care for a classroom garden.  Based on his experiences, Nick explains, “Service-learning empowers young people. It connects them to the community and to their work. It fosters a connection to the land, and makes people stakeholders in their environment.”

With all of these projects, Nick also relies on older generations to pass down their wisdom and skills. For example, in order to start the classroom garden, Nick consulted a community volunteer and master gardener to teach him basic gardening. “These experiences of growing your own food or monitoring properties, they are all best taught from a place of passion, which falls a lot on volunteers to pass down to younger generations.”  Passion is at the core of volunteerism. By donating time to share our skills and give back, we become more connected to our neighbors, family and community.  As Nick mentioned in our meeting, service learning is a great way to cultivate intergenerational skill sharing.  It highlights how we all are integral parts of our community and that everyone has something to teach, learn and share.

So, what are some ways you can combine service learning into your nature studies? Nick and I compiled a few service learning resources to get you started at home and in your community.  Read the rest of this entry »

Get involved! Service-Learning Opportunities in Western MA

Get involved! Service -Learning Opportunities in Western MA

How better to participate and learn through your community than a service-learning project? Service-learning projects can help youth connect with others while learning about their world.

Since just about anything can be a learning experience, this list will include both opportunities where the learning is obvious, along with opportunities where the learning is more subtle.

While there are lots of “Projects,” and opportunities for children to volunteer, why not just ask an organization that you respect if they need some help? Most groups need regular help with administrative tasks, including Hilltown Families. Asking is an easy way to get your family involved in something that you care about. Just about every social service agency, not for profit, and community can benefit from the support of others.

Here are some specific projects to check out:

Read the rest of this entry »

Library Seeks Youth Volunteers for Youth Action Committee

Cheri Hardy, Children’s Librarian at the Hatfield Public Library writes:

Youth volunteers wanted for Gingerbread House Contest on Saturday, December 15th at 11am at the Hatfield Public Library. Stations for different age groups will be set and and all materials provide. Kids will build a graham cracker gingerbread house and use icing and candy to decorate it. All ages welcomed. RSVP.

Youth Action Committee (YAC), the youth subcommittee of the Friends of the Hatfield Public Library, is recruiting new members. YAC gets together for an hour on the 2nd and 3rd Saturdays of every month at 11am at the Hatfield Public Library to have fun together and to plan and carry out action projects pertaining to the library. An action project could be anything from volunteering at a story hour to shelving books to fundraising for library improvements.

In December we have 2 volunteer opportunities — one on Saturday, Dec. 15th at 11am at the library’s Gingerbread House Contest, and the second is on Sunday, Dec. 23rd at 5pm at our yearly Luminarium Storytime.

In January, we’ll have games and pizza on the 2nd Saturday, Jan. 12th, and then the kids will figure out their next Action Project for the 3rd Saturday, Jan. 19th. Please RSVP for the club to kids.hatfieldlibrary@gmail.com or 413-247-9097 so that we have an email address and/or phone number.

The Gingerbread House Contest will take place on Saturday, December 15th at 11am at the Hatfield Public Library. We will have stations for different age groups and provide all materials necessary. Kids will build a graham cracker gingerbread house and use icing and candy to decorate it. Prizes will go to Best Book Scene, Best Fantasy House, Best Farm House, Best Fairy House, Best Holiday Lights, Best Skyscraper, and More! All ages welcome. Please RSVP if possible (so that we know how much to buy) to kids.hatfieldlibrary@gmail.com or call 413-247-9097.

Cheri will be joining the Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night this Friday, Nov. 30th in Northampton, reading stories from our recommended reading list of book titles about the social issues each of our beneficiary organizations address.  If your family is attending (must pre-register), stop by to see her and to find out more about their Youth Action Committee!

Does your local library, civic organization, school or community organization have a youth volunteer club? We want to hear about it! Share the exciting news with us at hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.

10 Ways to Give Back & Support Your Community Around Thanksgiving

News & Information on Service Learning, Community Service, & Family Volunteering Opportunities Around Thanksgiving Day

Looking for ways to give back to your community during the holidays. Here are 10 ideas we’ve shared this week on the Hilltown Families Facebook Page.  Ideas range from volunteering with your family for a single evening to hosting an elderly person in your home, and span the four counties of Western MA. There’s also information to share with families in need that you may know.

Do you have a volunteer or community service opportunity for families, children or teens you’d like to share, or have an idea on how families can give back to their community? We want to hear from you!  Email us at hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.


Volunteering as a family is a great way to make memories together & helps teach kids about the importance of giving back. This holiday season join us for Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night on Fri, Nov 30 for a fun evening visiting 5 different volunteer stations, each offering a simple, hands-on service project for all ages. Space is limited & preregistration required for this free event. Sign up soon! Big thank you to our sponsors, Northampton Public Schools/CFCE through a grant from the MA Department of Early Education and Care, Florence Savings Bank & Greenfield Savings Bank for making this night possible! – Want to join us for this special night of community service? Space is limited, so sign up now!


How many tin cans might you have to recycle after preparing your Thanksgiving Dinner? Rather than recycle, why not REUSE? Knack: The Art of Clever Reuse is holding an empty can drive for a volunteer station they are facilitating at the Hilltown Families Family Community Service Night. Please drop off clean tin cans at the Knack Holiday Pop-up shop this Saturday, November 24th from 10am-4pm in the gorgeous space of the Parlor Room, a new music venue at Signature Sounds Recordings, 32 Masonic Street, Northampton, MA.


On-air Food Drive… Stop by the WHAI or WPVQ studios on Tuesday, November 20 from 6am – 11am to drop off your non-perishable food items for The Food Bank of Western MA. Breakfast items and coffee will be served.


Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and the Easthampton Community Center Food Pantry still has turkeys available for families in need! If you need assistance this holiday season or know of a family in need, please send them to the Community Center. Pantry hours for Nov 19-21: Monday from 9am-12noon & 4-7pm; Tuesday from 9am-12noon; Wednesday 9am-5pm.


Do you or someone you know need a hot, home-cooked meal on Thanksgiving Day? Come and enjoy a congregate meal at the William J O’Brien Dinner at the Athol American Legion, corner of Exchange Street and Pequoig Avenue in Athol. Great company, great food, and drop-in’s are welcome. Come early and enjoy a cup of coffee. Transportation is available. For reservations, please call the Athol Council on Aging at 978-249-8986.


The Springfield City Library system will be collecting new mittens, gloves, scarves, and hats in its annual Library Mitten Tree project. Help warm the hearts and hands of area children by making a donation at the Central Library Children’s Room or at any Springfield City Library branch. Donated items are distributed to area groups such as the Red Cross – Pioneer Valley Chapter, the Gray House, and Springfield Partners for Community Action, Inc.. Donations will be accepted from Dec 1 until Jan 6, 2013. Many of this year’s donations will be handmade by the “Knit Lits,” a group of knitters and crocheters who meet every Friday from 10-11:30 a.m. at the East Springfield Branch Library, and also by the “Knit Alongs,” who meet Wednesdays at 1 p.m. at the East Forest Park Branch Library, 122 Island Pond Road. Newcomers are welcome to join either of the groups, with current members willing to teach knitting and crocheting. For more information about the Mitten Tree Project call the Central Library Children’s Room, 413-263-6828, x201, or stop in: 220 State Street, Springfield.


The Monterey, Massachusetts ice skating rink behind the fire station will be assembled next Saturday, Nov 24th, from 10am-12noon. Volunteers of all ages and abilities are needed to help attach the side boards and prepare the rink for the January-March season. Hundreds of children, parents, and hockey players enjoy the rink which is managed entirely by volunteers. Its a community effort that needs greater participation to be successful. Please come help and bring a broom, dolly, or cordless drill if possible. For more information, contact Steve at sgraves8@yahoo.com anytime.


Parent-child Home Program brings a Home visitor to your home twice a week to show you fun ways to help your child learn through play… Community Action Family Center Programs currently have openings in Greenfield, Turners Falls and Orange areas. Families in the Franklin County town can call for more information or to enroll 413-475-1550.


Do you have extra unused socks laying around the house? This year Florence Savings Bankis once again joining forces with Highland Valley Elder Services and other local banks to support the “Socks for Seniors” program to help low-income seniors in the area with new socks. If you wish to contribute to this program, you can drop off pairs of unused socks as at one of our FSB branches or at one of the other participating bank locations between November 1st – 30th. For more information on this great program, visit www.socksforseniors.com


Adult Family Care (AFC) from Franklin County Home Care (FCHCC) seeks nurturing community homes for young adults and elderly persons unable to live safely at home alone. Host family receives support, monthly stipend and paid vacation. Contact FCHCC to find out more at info@fchcc.org or 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.

Community Service: Source-to-Sea River Clean-Up with The Trustees

Source-to-Sea Clean-Up in Hampden County
Sunday, Sept. 30th

Ellie Lobovits, Holyoke Education Coordinator for the Trustees writes, “The river is such a spectacular resource in Holyoke. From restoring ecological habitat along its banks to leading kayaking trips we really want to keep it healthy and make sure people are enjoying it.” (Photo source: CT River Watershed Council)

The Trustees of Reservations (The Trustees), United Water, and Holyoke Friends of the River have joined forces this fall to organize a river clean-up volunteer day on the banks of the Connecticut River. On Sunday, September 30th, from 9am-Noon, folks of all ages and abilities are invited to meet at the American Legion next to Pulaski Park (50 St. Kolbe Dr., Holyoke, MA) to walk down to the river, picking up trash and debris along the way. The trash will then be organized into categories (metal, wood, etc.) and picked up by the Holyoke DPW. Much of the trash will be recycled… even tires get recycle! This clean-up is part of a larger effort organized by the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC) called “Source-to-Sea,” a clean-up that will run all weekend and will span all four states through which the Connecticut River runs.

This volunteer day is a great opportunity for youth groups, student groups, and other local organizations to come together to help clean-up the river and to make this precious resource safer for all. The river is used for all sorts of recreational activities, including boating and fishing, and is an important ecological resource, providing habitat for bald eagles, turtles, herons, and various fish. Last year, 1,500 Source-to Sea volunteers pulled over 51 tons of trash from 60 miles of shoreline throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Connecticut!

Looking for an existing group in your area to join? Check the CRWC website for groups still looking for volunteers, including the Friends of the Green River for the 9th Annual Green River Clean-Up on Saturday, Sept 29th from 9am-3pm.

Become a Friend of the River:

Rachel’s Table Gleaning Project

Community Service: Gleaning with Rachel’s Table

Rachel’s Table brings young volunteers into the fields where they can harvest surplus produce from local farms and bring it directly to our agencies. In addition to feeding the hungry, the Gleaning Project educates the community about hunger, food security, and agriculture.

When food is grown, often a significant amount is left behind in fields after the harvest.  Families can help to harvest food and contribute to local efforts to combat hunger by volunteering with Rachel’s Table Gleaning Project!  The project organizes community members to visit local farms and glean fields once farmers have finished their harvest.

Over the past five years, Rachel’s Table has offered over $100,000 worth of gleaned produce to local families dealing with food insecurity.  Gleaning trips include not only harvesting, but a session with an educator who helps the group to learn about the importance of their efforts, and how they are helping to care for their environment and their community.

To participate, volunteers must be at least 11 years old.  Gleaning events can be set up for homeschool groups, scout troops, classes, etc., or families can contact the project to find out about upcoming dates and locations for gleans.  For more information, contact Jessica Harwood at 617-599-7711, or by e-mail at jnanharwood@gmail.com.

Community Service: Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum

Families Can Volunteer at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum

Volunteers at the museum provide rides on the trolley and other historic railroad equipment, guide interpretive tours, repair the railroad tracks and are in the process of restoring many of the historic buildings and railroad equipment in the former Boston and Main railroad yard.

Help to preserve local history and an important part of the evolution of transportation by volunteering at the Shelburne Falls Trolley Museum!

The museum is home to trolleys, a pump car, and information and memorabilia related to local history and the history of train and trolley transportation. Volunteers at the museum can help with many different tasks, depending on skills, interest, and age.

“There are opportunities for almost every interest in railroads and history here at the museum”, says Sam Bartlett.  The museum has an extensive collection of historic rail road equipment which is still used in operation. This includes a hundred year old “pump car” used by track repair crews which also rolls out on the weekends for visitor rides.

Volunteers under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult (who is also volunteering), but can choose activities based on their abilities and interests. Older kids can train to be pump car operators (12+) or to be motor operators or conductors on trolleys.

There will be a volunteer training session on May 19th, 2012 for new volunteers! Call the museum at 413-625-9443 or visit www.sftm.org for more information.

[Photo credit: (ccl) Brian Fisk]

Community Service: Horizons for Homeless Children

Volunteer Training for Teens with Horizons for Homeless Children

Horizons for Homeless ChildrenDid you know that one in every fifty children in the United States lives without a permanent home?  Horizons for Homeless Children helps children living in shelters across Western Massachusetts by providing play spaces in shelters (places often not child-friendly and devoid of home-like aspects) and offering volunteers to spend time with kids, playing, reading, etc., in the play areas.

Due to the unpredictable nature of life in shelters, the organization asks that volunteers be over the age of 18, or younger teens between 16-18yo to be accompanied by a parent/adult.  However, community members of all ages are invited to attend a volunteer training, which will take place in Springfield, MA from 6-8:30pm on June 5th and 6th, 2012.

For those interested in volunteering, the training will provide the necessary information for beginning work in a shelter.  For those not yet old enough to volunteer, the training offers a unique opportunity to learn about the reality of homelessness in local communities, early childhood development and the emotional and educational needs of young children, and skills for playing with kids.  Information learned at the training can help to put homelessness (and issues causing and/or surrounding it) into perspective for families, and can help attendees understand how such issues affect their community.  Those interested in volunteering are asked to make a commitment of at least two hours per week.  To register for the training or for more information, call 413-532-0467 or e-mail aditmer@horizonsforhomelesschildren.org.


Horizons for Homeless Children is a non-profit agency dedicated to providing programs and services for homeless children in MA. The West Region office installs kid friendly playspaces inside of homeless shelters throughout Western MA, including the Berkshires, Greenfield, Northampton, Amherst, Holyoke, and Springfield. They actively recruit and train volunteers from the community to go into the Playspaces to play with the homeless children.

Great interview on WGBY’s Connecting Point:

Connecting Point writes, “Joanna Carrington, Playspace Programs West Regional Director at Horizons for Homeless Children; Nicole Lussier, Program Director for “Open Pantry” Teen Living Program in Springfield; and Playspace Activity Leader Denise Donnelly discuss the efforts to assist homeless kids through creation of playspaces at shelters –so homeless kids still get a chance to be kids despite the difficult circumstances they and their families are facing.”

Community Service and Theater Highlights for this Weekend

Community Service and Theater Highlights: April 28th & 29th, 2012

Help to tidy the East Branch Trail at the Chesterfield Gorge in West Chesterfield! Trails always need a little care after the winter, even a winter as mild as this year’s. Donate some time to the preservation of an amazing community resource! (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

Participate in community service this weekend with your family, then head out to one of the many theater opportunities!


Families can spend a day volunteering with Mass Audubon! The organization’s annual Statewide Volunteer Day will take place from 9am-12noon at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary (Easthampton), Canoe Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary (Pittsfield) & Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary (Hampden)! Volunteers can help to clean up trails, gardens, and nature centers – there are activities for all ages and abilities, everything from preparing garden beds for planting to restoring trails. Must sign up as volunteer slots are limited.

Other morning opportunities families can participate in include clean ups of our parks and community spaces include a Spring Clean Up Day in Lenox at the library and town train station, sprucing up the outdoor spaces at the Springfield Museum in Springfield, a work bee at the Cushman Library in Bernardson, or tidying up the Chesterfield Gorge in West Chesterfield.

In the afternoon, there will be a Sew-In at the Longmeadow Library in  Longmeadow open to sewers from beginner to advanced – if you don’t know how to sew, you can learn!  The bags are simple.  Kids welcome, but use your own discretion – they must be able to independently operate a machine.

Then on Sunday, get moving and help to raise funds for Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Hampshire County by participating in the  Daffodil Fun Run in Amherst!


While you’re out and about volunteering in your community, end the day with  one of the many theater performances. The Starlight Youth Theater will present Seussical at South Hadley High School, Westfield State University presents Shakespeare’s Hamlet in Westfield, Williston Northampton School presents Fiddler on the Roof in Easthampton, Westfield Theatre Group will perform a musical adaptation of the story Robin Hood at the Westfield Woman’s Club, and families can see the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Engelbert Hunperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel on the big screen at Memorial Hall in Shelburne Falls.

List of Weekly Suggested EventsAll of this and more can be found on our list of Weekly Suggested Events!

Community Service: Mass Audubon Statewide Volunteer Day

Work for Wildlife
Mass Audubon 6th Annual Statewide Volunteer Day
Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Spending the day helping with spring clean-up efforts is a way for families to contribute to the preservation of community resources, and can help kids learn about environmental stewardship.

Spend a day volunteering with Mass Audubon! The organization’s annual Statewide Volunteer Day will take place on Saturday, April 28th from 9am-12noon in locations across the state.

In Western MA, families can volunteer at one of three sanctuaries: Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield; Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton; or Laughing Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Hampden. Volunteers can help to clean up trails, gardens, and nature centers – there are activities for all ages and abilities, everything from preparing garden beds for planting to restoring trails.

In Pittsfield and Easthampton, families with children of all ages can choose to help set up compost sites, expand herb beds, repair scarecrows, or pick up trash from spring floods.  And at all three locations families with teens can choose to help stake gardens, rake pathways, clear and expand turtle nesting sites, remove invasive plant species, loading canoes & row boats, install a new children’s garden area, along with cleaning up winter debris. For more information check their page, Work for Wildlife, or call 781-259-2185.  Each sanctuary has a limited number of volunteer slots, so be sure to sign up soon!

Do you know of a community service opportunity for families in Western MA?  Tell us so we can share with families interested in volunteering with their kids in our community: hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.

Community Service: Volunteering as a Family

Community Service: Volunteering as a Family

Community clean up day at Greenfield Energy Park. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

During the holiday season there was much discussion about community service opportunities families could participate in together. Now that spring has arrived, many parks are getting ready for the season with spring clean ups, an excellent time of the year for families to participate in community service together, while enjoying the outdoors.

This past Saturday, April 7th, 2012 Greenfield Energy Park had their spring clean up, and several families stopped by to volunteer their time and energy cleaning up the park. Coordinator, Nancy Hazard, invites families to join her during the summer on Thursday evenings during the Coop Concerts (6-8pm) to quietly help with weeding.  And in the fall there will be another big community clean up.  We’ll announce when here on Hilltown Families, along with other opportunities we learn about for families over the seasons.

Today Saturday, April 14th, 2012 there are several more opportunities for families to participate in community service by volunteering their time to local clean up efforts.

Look Park in Florence is opening for the season, but the grounds need some attention! Bring your family and come to the park ready to work (BYO rake and gloves).

Families can participate together in community service at one of the many spring clean ups happening in the region. (Photo credit: Sienna Wildfield)

And just down the road, also in Florence, there will be a community work morning and tour of the new Beaver Brook/Fitzgerald Lake Greenway with the Broad Brook Coalition.  Bring your family (and gloves!) and help clean up debris, fallen branches and tree limbs.  There will also be a brief tour of the farm and artifacts that once occupied this area.

In Ashfield, families can join the Trustees of Reservation for a morning of trail maintenance at Chapel Brook. The Appalachian Mountain Club will be offering beginner climbing lessons too!

And in West Springfield, families can help clean up at Regan Park in the afternoon by raking grass, picking up trash, and removing debris left over from winter.

Do you know of a community service opportunity for families in Western MA?  Tell us so we can share with families interested in volunteering with their kids in our community: hilltownfamilies@gmail.com.

Family Volunteering at the Hancock Shaker Village

Hancock Shaker Village Offers Volunteer Opportunities for Families

Assist young visitors in the Hancock Shaker Village hands-on Discovery Room.

There is a unique volunteer opportunity available for families with older children happening at one of our living museums! Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, MA offers families with children ages 13 and older the chance to volunteer at the village, and there are many different activities to help out with!

During the spring, volunteers are needed to help with Baby Animals on the Shaker Farm, an ongoing event featuring baby animals of all types that visitors can meet and interact with. In the summer, volunteers can teach visitors how to make butter, perform traditional Shaker music, assist in facilitating hands-on activities at the village’s Discovery Room, help care for gardens and orchards, and demonstrations of other ways of life from the 1800s. And in the fall, volunteers are needed for their Country Fair and Shaker Suppers.

There is training available for volunteer activities that require special skills (like making butter or blacksmithing). By volunteering, families with teens can learn about Shaker culture and local history, and will play an important role in visitors’ learning! Volunteering allows families to be a part of the village, a unique local resource, and is a great way to contribute to your community. For information on volunteer activities, visit www.hancockshakervillage.org.

Volunteer for First Night Northampton

Volunteer Opportunity: First Night Northampton

First Night is a Northampton tradition enjoyed by the community every year- families love all of the fun events that take place all day (especially the fireworks!) and it’s a wonderful way to wrap up the holidays. However, all of the fun couldn’t happen without the help of volunteers!

The Northampton Center for the Arts, which the event benefits, is seeking volunteers to help out during First Night! There are three shifts available- 1-5pm, 4:30-8:30pm (with a break for fireworks), or 8-11pm. Volunteers are asked to help out at one of the downtown performance venues during their shift, so if you help out, you’ll still get to enjoy the events! Volunteers also get a free First Night button and are able to enjoy the event while they’re not on duty! For more information or to sign up, call the Center for the Arts at 413-584-7327 or fill out their volunteer form online.

%d bloggers like this: