Beyond 40 Hours: Meaningful Community Service

By: Bhavana Penmetsa, 11th grade

As MYP and DP students at Imagine, it’s impossible to escape these three phrases: Service Hours, Managebac and CAS. Students are required to complete a certain number of service hours, which increases every year, and log them on Managebac. And they do- nobody wants to miss out on an IB diploma over volunteering hours! But the question remains: how meaningful is the community service we are completing? Ask yourself this, and take a moment to decide if you’re really making the impact you want to. 

At this point in the school year, most of us are probably (hopefully) on track with our community service – some scattered hours here and there doing any service opportunities we can find in order to fulfill our required amount of hours, like handing out water at a local marathon or babysitting the neighbors’ kids for free. But it’s important to take a step back and really think about what the point of community service is. Volunteering wasn’t designed as something to tack onto your college resume but as a way to truly get involved within your community.

This year, I’ve made it a goal of mine to measure how much of a difference I am making when it comes to the things I am passionate about, rather than constantly measure the number of hours I have amassed. And so should you.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t track how many hours you put in; by all means, do. But if you’re just doing service in the hopes that more hours will mean a better chance of admission to selective colleges, then you’re doing it wrong. People can tell when someone genuinely cares about the work they are doing, and understand that work without passion isn’t nearly as valuable.

You can hear it in the poet’s voice when he talks about how writing makes him feel and from the future scientist who took college classes over the summer because she wanted to understand physics better. You can sense it from the student who volunteers at the vet because she adores animals, and from the athlete who stays on the bench for most of the game but still loves being on the team. Your passion doesn’t need to be something huge, so don’t start digging around to find something you think might impress others. Passion is something that hooks onto you and makes you want more, and it can’t be faked . We are all passionate about something, and the sooner you can figure out what that means for you, the sooner you can be on your way to doing meaningful community service.

Just think for a second. What do you enjoy doing the most?  What do you happiest to talk about with your friends? What issues (global or local) fire you up and really get you going? These are your passions. Whether they are something like a lack of access to healthy food in your school, or something broader, you can turn anything into genuine community service. If your passion is music, then work with a local organization that helps kids with special needs through music therapy. If you love playing hockey, then put some time aside to coach a youth hockey team in an area of town that may not be able to afford a real coach. If you care about the number of homeless animals in your community, start volunteering at a local animal shelter weekly.

If you’re worried about how this all figures into your college application, don’t be. In a 2011 survey by dosomething.org, 80% of college admission officers said that they preferred consistent local volunteering and that a commitment to a single cause was strongly preferred over scattered involvement with a variety of causes.

“Meaning” is different to everyone. No matter how big or small, you can never go wrong when you are doing what you love. So next time your parents remind you that you need to be getting more hours, talk to them about finding a permanent cause for you to put your time and effort into.  You will not only reap the benefits past high school and into college, but you will also feel much better about what you are doing. After all, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

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