Community Benefit Project Toolbox

Welcome to the Community Benefit Project Toolbox Toolbox

Use these tools to do young adult-designed service projects in your community.

  • guiding documents
  • videos
  • customizable forms
  • photos
  • and other resources to plan and do projects!

Community benefit projects are service projects designed and completed by young adults that fill an important need in the community where the young people live. Unlike traditional community service, community benefit projects combine a youth development approach with restorative justice and workforce development strategies.  Young adults involved in the criminal justice system build positive relationships with their communities and give back through service at the same time that they build job readiness skills.  Young people typically spend three months or more on a project, with regular opportunities to reflect on their growth throughout their work and a celebration of their accomplishments when the project is done.

Many of the resources in this toolbox were developed by the staff of the NYC Justice Corps, and they are included here as models to be used or adapted in other programs. Additional resources and videos come from the NYC Justice Corps Learning Community, a staff training held in January 2014, which was facilitated by the Youth Development Institute.

The Prisoner Reentry Institute of John Jay College of Criminal Justice wishes to thank the staff who have participated in Learning Community meetings and acknowledges the following current and former staff for their contributions to the Toolbox materials: Tai Merey Alex, Debbie Boar, Monique De La Oz, Tenaja Jordan, Dorick Scarpelli, Carlyle Tom, and Alison Trenk. PRI is deeply grateful to our funders at the NYC Mayor’s Office for Economic Opportunity for supporting the NYC Justice Corps Learning Community.

Community Benefit Project Toolbox Index

Learn about the community benefit project model. Project guidelines. Service learning, youth development, and experiential learning. Evidence-based foundation of the model.

Learn how to engage young adults in project planning, including community mapping to identify neighborhood needs and project scoping to assess feasibility. Learn how to involve a community advisory board to review, strengthen, and approve projects.

Learn about developing job readiness skills through service learning, managing conflict on the project, and preparing for post-project transition.

Photos and map of projects completed by the NYC Justice Corps.

All resources from the Community Benefit Project Toolbox in one convenient index.

CBP - Intro

Use these tools to do young adult-designed service projects in your community.

In This Section:

Guidelines: A community benefit project is…

  • a service project that fulfills an important, unmet need in the neighborhood
  • planned and completed by a team of young adults involved in the criminal justice system
  • located in the community where the young adults live
  • approved by a Community Advisory Board of local residents, business owners and leaders
  • highly visible, environmentally sound, and long-lasting
  • a way to repair relationships between young adults and community members
  • an opportunity to combine service and learning, so that young adults build literacy and numeracy skills, teamwork skills, and job readiness skills that they need to succeed in the workforce.

Download Guidelines.

How the model works—tools for youth development, service learning, and experiential learning

Community benefit projects are a Youth Development Strategy that benefits young people by giving them the positive developmental opportunities they need to grow. The projects also offer a rewarding, positive work environment for the adults who work with young people. This tool reviews how community benefit projects offer young people many ways to participate—by choosing which activities to get involved in, making decisions about the service projects, interacting with adults in the community, and more.

Community benefit projects follow the ASPIRE Service Learning Model to be sure that young people are learning and practicing new skills as they do service. This tool connects each phase of the community benefit project to young adult learning and skill development.

Experiential learning—actively engaging young people in their learning—is at the heart of the community benefit projects. This tool is an in-depth guide that defines the key components of experiential learning and how they apply to community benefit projects. Learning activities are designed to recognize the knowledge and experience that young people bring to the program. Rather than lecturing or telling, staff or other adult leaders set up actual experiences that enable young people to draw their own conclusions, to examine their own attitudes, to get excited about a new idea, to see a skill in action, to learn from other participants, and to practice new ways of behaving.

For an introduction to the youth development model that informs the design of community benefit projects, see the videos Theory and Framework and Core Concepts as well as other resources in the Youth Development Toolbox.

Evidence base for community benefit projects

The community benefit project model draws on an Evidence-Based Foundation about what works to help young adults in the criminal justice system improve their lives and build protective factors that can help them reduce their involvement in the justice system. This tool offers brief excerpts of relevant research and theory. Learn more about adolescent and young adult development and the theory behind a youth development approach to working with young adults who are involved in the criminal justice system. Research about the meaning of community benefit projects and their impact on NYC Justice Corps members is included in the Community Benefits Projects Report (forthcoming).

CBP - Get Ready

Use these tools to do young adult-designed service projects in your community.

In This Section:

Community benefit project planning

The Community-Benefit-Project-Planning-Flowchart is a graphic overview of the steps involved in launching a community benefit project, from the selection and approval of a project through the start of service-work. Use this tool to establish a timeline for project planning and track your progress to start-up.

Community mapping

The Community Mapping Survey is used by young adults in the NYC Justice Corps to identify needs in their neighborhoods that can lead to ideas for community benefit projects. The Survey is designed as a guide to help young adults develop a community profile and create a street map. To complete the Survey, young adults walk around their neighborhoods to assess the condition of community resources such as parks and community gardens. Young adults also interview local business owners, representatives of local nonprofit community organizations, and faith leaders. Sample interview questions are included in the Survey. There are many other ways young adults can learn about neighborhood needs such as contacting the local community board or other local government agencies. The Community Mapping Survey can be downloaded and customized.

Project scoping

Project scoping is the process of determining whether a community benefit project is feasible and what resources—tools, materials, equipment, training, and so on—will be necessary to complete the project. The Community Benefit Project Scope Sheet is used by young adults to forecast their resource needs, determine how many people will be required for the work, and estimate how long it will take to complete the project. Community Benefit Project Scope Sheet Questions guide young adults and staff through the feasibility assessment. Use the Scope Sheet and Scope Sheet Questions together to develop a budget, timeline, and training plan for the project. The scoping process will yield crucial information to help the young people and staff choose service projects that can be completed successfully—on time, within budget, and within the skill set of the young adults.

Involving a community advisory board

After the scoping process, when the team of young adults have selected one or more feasible service projects, the team proposes the project(s) to a community advisory board. The board is comprised of local business people, residents, faith leaders and other members of the community who review and approve the young people’s plans for their service projects. All community benefit projects must be approved by the community advisory board before the project begins. Young adults develop their communication skills by creating PowerPoint presentations with photos of the site for the service project, a budget, and text documenting the need for the proposed project. Every youth member of the team takes part in the presentation to the community advisory board, giving them a chance to build their teamwork and public speaking skills. Sample PowerPoint presentations from the Harlem Justice Corps Marcus Garvey Harlem Hawks CAB PPT, the Harlem Justice Corps Team Justice CAB PPT, and Harlem Justice Corps Young Justice, and the QJC CAB 1 African Poetry Theatre reflect the work done by teams of young adults in the NYC Justice Corps to plan their service projects.

Each community advisory board meeting should have a printed agenda, reflecting the fact that important business is taking place and board members’ time is valued. The Harlem Justice Corps CAB Meeting Agenda is included here as a model.

At the end of the presentation, community advisory board members ask questions, give their feedback to the young people, and use the Community Benefit Project Selection Rubric to determine whether they will approve the proposed project. This tool should be distributed to advisory board members along with the Community Benefit Project Selection Rubric Scoring Guide at the beginning of the meeting to ensure that they understand the criteria for project approval. The scoring rubric asks community advisory board members to rate the extent to which the proposed project fills an unmet community need, will be visible in the neighborhood, will have a lasting impact, will teach young adults valuable skills, and otherwise meets the guidelines for community benefit projects.

The community advisory board meets with the young adults again, after the project is completed. This gives the young adults an opportunity to reflect on what they’ve learned and further hone their communication skills as they present a post-project PowerPoint that documents the completed project. This presentation typically includes an updated budget with projected and actual expenditures; before-and-after photos showing the impact of the project; and text slides describing the work that was done. The Queens Justice Corps CAB 2 Afrikan Poetry Theatre+Theater of the Oppressed is a sample post-project presentation.

CBP - Do Projects

Use these tools to do young adult-designed service projects in your community.

In This Section:

Experiential learning

To help young adults develop new skills while they do service, review Community Benefit Project as Experiential Learning for Young Adults just before the project begins. This in-depth guide defines the key components of experiential learning and how they apply to community benefit projects.

Job readiness skills and evaluation

Participation in community benefit projects gives young people the opportunity to build a set of Target Job Readiness Skills. These are the “soft” skills that young people need to succeed on the job, including professionalism (such as punctuality, appropriate attire, appropriate language); active participation (such as following directions and accepting constructive feedback); and critical thinking (such as taking initiative and adapting to challenges). This tool provides a list of behavioral indicators associated with each target work readiness skill.

Young people and staff are encouraged to complete an Initial Job Readiness Evaluation within the first 1-2 weeks of the project and a Final Job Readiness Evaluation at the end of the project. These tools engage young people in the process of reflecting on their own growth and development. The tools assess “soft skills” such as professionalism and critical thinking; “hard skills” associated with renovation/beautification projects such as painting and plastering; and administrative skills such as organizing materials.

Community benefit project introductory group activity

The Introductory Activity Group Resume works well in the beginning of the project. It helps young people build confidence and recognize their strengths as they get to know each other and get ready to work together as a team. It also gives the facilitator information about which skills the young people are bringing to the project and which skills they will need to develop. This tool provides step-by-step instructions for the Group Resume activity.

Managing conflict

Conflicts can occur on community benefit projects as young people encounter the challenges of learning new skills, taking direction from a site supervisor, and working as a team (to name just a few potential conflict situations). Identifying conflict triggers can help prevent conflicts, but managing conflict within a youth development approach also means that relationships can be restored and young people can continue their participation and learning in the program, even after conflict has occurred. Conflicts are powerful opportunities for growth and learning.

Watch videos from training for the NYC Justice Corps staff on the Conflict Cycle to learn about triggers that can start conflicts and the process of escalation and de-escalation.  Staff members performed role-plays of actual worksite conflicts and developed alternative methods of managing the conflicts using the I ESCAPE technique.  These videos are tools for professionals and other adults to build their skills in managing conflict on community benefit projects.

Post-project transition

The end of the project is a great time for young adults to celebrate accomplishments, reflect on what else they’d like to learn, and think about what comes next. The Post CBP Transition Interview Worksheet is a tool for each young person on the team to complete and review with a project staff member or another supportive adult.

CBP - Examples

Use these tools to do young adult-designed service projects in your community.

In This Section:

Map of NYC Justice Corps Projects

This interactive map shows the locations of all 132 community benefit projects completed by the NYC Justice Corps, 2008-2014. Each project is marked with a star. Click on the star to find the name of the host organization and a brief description of the project.


Photos of the Queens Justice Corps were taken in January 2014, when the team renovated the Afrikan Poetry Theatre.


The Corps members cleared and cleaned the basement, plastered holes in the walls, laid carpeting, and installed a sheetrock ceiling. In partnership with the “Theatre of the Oppressed” the team wrote, developed and starred in a forum theatre performance, Can’t Get Right.

The performance explored the young people’s experiences of racism and harassment on the streets, and ended with audience brainstorming and reenactment of alternative approaches to counteracting harassment. A performance was held in the newly renovated Afrikan Poetry Theatre, as well as at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.