By Ava Benedict
Dr. Kristy Verdi created the Randall Middle School 9/11 Memorial in 2010, involving each student in this massive undertaking that encouraged the practice of service-learning for middle school students. Service-learning is an important part of education, as it instills civic responsibility in students and teaches them not just curriculum but also how to give back to their community.
Although an increased number of teachers have tried to integrate this approach in classrooms, very few resources are available. This lack of resources is why, in March of 2020, Dr. Verdi created Learn and Serve Tampa, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing service-learning projects to K-12th grade students and schools.
“We want to empower youth service and connect it with classroom learning,” said Dr. Verdi.
Since its creation, the organization has participated in countless projects, including the sponsorship of three national days of service: Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Global Youth Service Day and the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. This year, Learn and Serve Tampa has had over 2,000 volunteers participate in a multitude of events. Current projects include replacing student artwork at the McKay Bay Nature Park Pavilion, creating posters that encourage the use of recycling bins through the NYLC Education in Action program, participating in the NYLC Project Ignition’s safe driver campaign and establishing a community garden at Burnett Middle School.
Before founding Learn and Serve Tampa, Dr. Verdi previously organized the 9/11 Memorial at Randall Middle School and led the Randall Area Youth Service Council, known as the R.A.Y.S. program. This program encouraged middle school students in the community to partake in more service-learning projects and volunteer opportunities. When Dr. Verdi left Randall Middle School in 2018, she continued to pursue her passion of providing service-learning programs to students.
“True service-learning should be the kids themselves looking around them and saying, ‘Hey, we see this issue and want to do something about it,’” said Dr. Verdi.
Learn and Serve Tampa continues to aid teachers in connecting students with service-learning projects and nonprofits that are in need of volunteers. Although it has received grants from some local businesses, it mainly operates on donations from people throughout the Tampa area. To learn more information about Learn and Serve Tampa and how to get involved, visit its website at www.learnandservetampa.org.