The Positive Effect of Generosity in After-School Programs

By Katelyn S. Herrygers, Content and Community Manager, Learning to Give 

Generosity—also known as the act of giving—is an equalizer. Everyone has something to give; be that time, talent, or treasure. But are all youth getting an equal chance to learn about ways to be active participants in their community? Are all kids given the opportunity to tackle real-world issues and come up with and enact real-world solutions? In schools and after-school programs across the country, young people are getting the guided opportunity to learn first-hand about what makes up civil society, where they fit in, and that they have the power to make a difference in this world. They are doing it through the lens of generosity. And they are doing so with guidance and support provided by Learning to Give lessons and activities.

Learning to Give, a 501c(3) based in Michigan with national reach, recently completed a 4-month (January to May 1) pilot study of philanthropy education and service-learning through guided implementation in after-school programs. The goal of the pilot was to test how to successfully introduce students in after-school programs to giving through lessons that connect classroom curriculum with community experiences to encourage students to think beyond themselves.

Brandi Robinson, a program leader and pilot participant shared a powerful story: “Our students learned through trial and error what it means to understand how to work together in their own community. We had to put the brakes on this work for a week or so to get back to basics of what it looks like. I asked the kids, "How can you do something for the community you chose if you cannot work together in our own little community?" So, we did the Human Knot activity from the Build Community selection of lessons and activities to allow for the students to experience communication and collaboration. It really helped our kids in program to see what it should look and sound like when working toward a common goal. At first it was not received well, but as they started to work together, they really came together. This activity also gave us, as staff, reference points when the groups started to wander (argue, work alone, etc.) when we got back to the service-project work. It was a great tool to use to bring the kids together on their own accord instead of just telling them to work together.”

The Process

Over 50 Michigan after-school leaders attended one of two in-person half-day workshops to learn about Learning to Give and the pilot program. This crash course in philanthropy education and service-learning gave potential participants the opportunity to opt into the pilot program. In all, 19 after-school leaders came onboard, and 10 were able to complete the pilot program from start to finish.

Learning to Give measured two different concepts during the pilot program. The first concept focused on student impact and learnings as a result of philanthropy and service-learning implementation. Pre and post-surveys were distributed to the 313 K-12 students who participated in their respective after-school programs. Data collected measured students’ understanding of philanthropy, students’ understanding of community, and students’ ability to provide an example of volunteering, as well as the after-school leaders perspective on students’ behaviors and attitudes toward caring following service.

The second concept focused on the measurement of the effectiveness of an online guide including tasks and tracks to be completed that the after-school leaders were asked follow at their own pace. The step-by-step digital guide took pilot participants from an introduction of giving, to teaching a lesson, then to the action of service-learning, and closed with reflection and demonstration. These steps were developed based on Learning to Give’s available curriculum and a systematic approach to infusing generosity into lessons and activities. Pilot participants were required to sign into an online platform to follow tracks and complete tasks to unlock next steps and additional support.


“I believe talking about service-learning and lending a hand to the community has opened their [students’] eyes to helping their community in new ways,” said after-school program leader, Fayzah Yahya.

Data show positive results for using Learning to Give lessons and activities in after-school programs. The program leaders reported significant student impact as well as appreciation for the online guidance. Most participants indicated they would return to Learning to Give resources again in the fall. After-school leaders reported that their students demonstrated an increased understanding of the meaning of philanthropy, community, and service, as well as an increase in caring attitudes as a result of the pilot program.

  • 91% increase in caring attitude
  • 54% increase in philanthropy knowledge
  • 18% increase in community knowledge
  • 11% increase in volunteering knowledge

The step-by-step guide proved an effective way to help after-school leaders bring knowledge and the practice of generosity into program activities. Qualitative responses show program leaders prefer to start this program supplement at the beginning of the school year and build expectations into the plan for the full year. This suggests that Learning to Give can be adopted by an after-school program before a new school year begins and practiced throughout the year to influence culture and expectations for all. Learning to Give is not a full curriculum in and of itself, instead, lessons connect to common core and state standards, and can be infused into any subject area or grade level.

“Learning to Give makes this easy and is very broad so you have many areas to try,” said after-school leader, Cher Troup. “You are not tied to one type of project. The students have more buy-in when they have a voice and choice. The support is fantastic, and you can’t ask for better!”


The means to developing well-rounded citizens is to make the students' innate caring and generosity, as well as needs and passions, a driving influence of the educational system in which they learn and grow.  How do we develop well-rounded citizens? We connect their innate caring and social interests to real needs in the community at an early age. If we want youth to care about making the world around them better, we must find out what they care about first! Learning to Give lessons help educators connect academic knowledge and skills to the hands-on service work students help design and carry out. With its inclusive and flexible structure, the after-school realm is a great place to reach students from diverse backgrounds to expand exposure to people, resources, and experiences, as well as the opportunity to share their unique gifts and talents.

The suggested shift to imbedding generosity into learning experiences is not about adjusting academic rigor and replacing it with social-emotional maturity, but about providing a balance to strengthen both. In many ways, Learning to Give provides the opportunity for in-school K-12 teachers and after-school leaders to work in coordination and complement one another. When students are learning to give and care, a positive and inclusive culture isn’t far behind – an ideal for both in-school and after-school time. When it comes to an after-school program, there’s limitless potential and opportunity for widening the door and helping students thrive. Learning to Give aids programs looking to connect students’ skills, interests, and passions to their learning and community. 

Philanthropy education through Learning to Give helps after-school programs match academic practice with community needs and student interests, with the goals of increasing student competency and developing citizenry and generosity. Lessons, activities, and resources help educate youth about philanthropy, civil society, and democracy by equipping them with experiences to participate in community and empowering them to take action in support of their passions and values. The lessons that prompt these actions help students feel capable and worthy of being a part of something bigger than themselves while recognizing that they have the power to make a difference.

With the support of Learning to Give step-by-step guidance, after-school leaders anywhere can enhance their programs’ caring culture, individual student confidence levels, and provide meaningful learning experiences for participants.

With the success of this pilot program and continued support from our partner, the Michigan After-School Partnership, Learning to Give developed guided mini-courses to help after-school programs implement philanthrpy and service-learning. Click here to view our step-by-step mini-courses for teaching generosity and building community connections in your after-school program. 

To get involved with after-school support, contact Katelyn Herrygers.