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Searching for the real spirit of giving

I couldn’t help feeling somewhat guilty as I asked the non-profit supervisor to sign my community service sheet. After all, the point of community service is supposed to be to help the community, not to log hours. But that’s what community service is for many well-off high school students: another step toward National Honor Society or the Presidential Service Award. Few teenagers seem to truly care about the impact that they’re making on the world. At the same time, at least they’re doing something. It raises the question: is it better to do good for the wrong reason or not do good at all?

When each student in a 100-student National Honor Society has to log 40 hours of community service, the volunteering adds up. That’s 400 hours of service that the community probably wouldn’t have gotten if the NHS hadn’t required it. Most students, especially those interested in NHS and prestigious colleges, put a good effort into volunteering. They earn their required hours, and those hours often don’t come easily. It takes a lot of time and effort. Most likely, it’s not even noticeable to the recipients of their efforts that the students are working for something other than the common good. There’s little question that getting into a good college is a noble goal, and community service work is almost a must on a resume for a prestigious college. Put this way, it seems that both the student, with his or her plumped resume, and the community, with its extra aid, benefit from this plan.

The only problem is purely ethical. It really makes no difference to colleges or communities what the motive is as long as the work gets done and done well. Many people would consider that a system that pleases everyone and has no physical repercussions is good as it is. And then there are those (like me) who find that this way of things just eats at them a bit. Isn’t philanthropy all about caring about others? And isn’t boosting your resume and looking good to colleges all about you? There isn’t anything wrong with the latter; everyone has a right to create a bright future for themselves. It just seems to me that philanthropy and personal goals shouldn’t mix. As corny as it sounds, there is something rewarding about helping someone less fortunate than you. Volunteering should be done because people care about others, not because they feel that it is a requirement.

And while some may argue that making community service mandatory could help fuel a volunteering spirit in students and make them truly care more, it just isn’t as effective as if they had no ulterior incentive. Doesn’t it promote more awareness and initiative if students take the step to help out on their own and work from the heart?

With college becoming more common and rising tuitions creating more competition for scholarships, there’s not much chance any of this is going to change. And students can hardly be blamed for trying to do well in school and get into a good college. If everyone else is doing community service so that they can put it on their resumes, then it doesn’t do anyone any good to refuse to volunteer as protest of the system. So the only option left is invisible and only in the heart and mind. The only option is simply to volunteer with others in mind and choose community service that, while helpful to a resume, is also important to the volunteer. Because in the end, community service is supposed to be about caring, and it’s not impossible to care about yourself and others at the same time.



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