Required to Volunteer

June 22, 2011
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As the school year comes to a close, many of my peers have been rushing to fulfill their community service hour graduation requirements that are now so common in schools across the country. This set number of hours students need to complete in order to graduate makes sense when you first think about it. The philosophy is that students who fulfill this requirement gain a higher level of appreciation for the local or global community and feel more motivated to continue philanthropic work on their own.
However, I can find several issues with this hour requirement philosophy. It frustrates me that many students rush to find the simplest way to meet their obligation. They find tasks that will give them a lot of hours for little work. This means they do not always select jobs that will fit their interests. A friend of mine loves children, but instead of finding an organization that allows her to do something child-related for community service, she went and did trail maintenance on a school organized trip, because it was easy and requires no preparation on her part aside from showing up. I am not trying to say that a cause related to children is more valuable than one related to nature with the goal of helping the community, but rather to say that one cause would be more in line with the schools’ intentions for the service requirement. This, of course, is the path less traveled. I have noticed that students who pick a job outside of their realm of interest rarely find the drive to continue their service past the hours they need.
And then, of course, I find there are the students who decide to turn their community service into a self-service. They decide that in order to fill their hours, they should go on a community service trip to some foreign country. This basically means that they are spending time away from home and having an amazing experience, while passing it off as service work. I think that students need to recognize that there is at least some self-satisfaction in programs like these; students do not usually participate in them for entirely selfless reasons. I think they tend to pass the trips off as charity work when the reality is that of the two weeks away, only a fraction of that is actual work. This is not to say that this is not a valuable experience; it is certainly important for students to learn about different cultures and issues outside of their cities. The point, however, is that a student pays $3995 (as one program I found in my research costs), often claiming their sole purpose is to help someone elsewhere. However, that same $4000 could pay for four years of a high school student’s boarding school in Tanzania, including tuition, room, and board. (I learned this from my Tanzanian pen pal.) Or it could pay for eight cows to go to impoverished families around the world (as the Heifer Foundation seeks to do). With each cow producing four gallons of milk a day, that $4000 could help nourish eight different families for years. The point is that nobody should pay to do community service when the money could be used to fully support a cause. But even more pressing to me on this matter is that there are countless free opportunities to help out locally, no matter where you live; you shouldn’t need to pay to offer your help.
I am not saying that this should discount community service entirely, rather that an hour requirement system is not the optimal way to approach community service in a high school. One alternative is for a school to make community service into a class and give graduation credits for it. This way, it is optional, but may, in fact, seem more appealing to a student. Another alternative would be to make a community service society, not unlike the cum laude society. To be acknowledged, students would need to fill a minimum hour requirement, but this way, students are not required to participate in service work. The students taking part would all have elected to do so, and since they felt the impetus to make that decision, they would probably also have the desire to participate in service work that would relate to their interests. It is certainly a wonderful thing to help out a community, but it is even more so when someone does it whole-heartedly and without ulterior motives.

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