Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Serve?

In my capacity working on a high school campus and sharing community service ideas with our students, I often hear them ask if volunteering is a graduation requirement. Although there are fifteen hours of service as part of the district’s Living Skills class, technically there is no absolute requirement that service be performed to graduate. But, for some reason Palo Alto High School students demonstrate an intense level of social awareness. As mentioned in my previous blogs, our students are involved in everything from the local food bank to volunteering for relief organizations in Sri Lanka. I often consider the reasons why young people become interested in service, and how they might be motivated to share their talents in the community.

Scholars on the subject of volunteering have defined some of the driving forces to include:

· Acknowledgment of contributions

· Being part of a group

· Improved self-confidence

· A sense of accomplishment

· Opportunities to share proficiencies and talents

My own observations in collaborating with dozens of students on group and individual projects further demonstrate the motivating factors:

· A chance to explore interests and passions

· An outlet for creative self-expression

· A forum for connecting with the world outside of school

Some students are merely inspired by outside individuals, even celebrities, to perform service. Several notables have promoted the concept this summer. Michelle Obama and Maria Shriver on June 22, 2009 joined forces to encourage the spirit of volunteerism across America in conjunction with their appearances at the 2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service. Former South African President Nelson Mandela, now 91 years old, called on people worldwide to do good works in celebration of his birthday. People were asked to spend 67 minutes volunteering on July 18th, as a symbol of the 67 years Mandela spent campaigning against apartheid. A concert to kick off Mandela Day was held in New York with artists Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, and Aretha Franklin performing. Superstars like these are sure to inspire dedication to a cause.

Occasionally, I have the pleasure to meet with students who are neither driven by a sense of obligation, or outside inspiration, but by a simple and sincere desire to make a difference. Those are the students who look inside themselves to discover a connection between their unique talents and a pressing need in their community. They take the initiative to develop projects with little or no direction, just because they know it will be helpful to a cause that catches their interest. This type of service is always the most gratifying; it is also the most challenging, requiring us to go outside of our comfort zones.

Four students at our school are working overtime this summer to make their unique contributions in their areas of interest:

· Veronica Dao: organizing information about the community gardens of the Peninsula for student volunteer opportunities

· Charles Zhang: recording the volunteer activities and planning a searchable database of our students’ volunteer experiences

· Michael Abrams and Renee Singh: creating “Paly Environmental Initiative,” a resource to enlighten our school community and to provide free plants to every classroom

These young people and more have been motivated from within, and have taken the initiative to contribute their talents to the betterment of the high school community. Their only recognition comes from the satisfaction of knowing they are creating something that was not there before. Whether we do service by requirement, by inspiration from others, or an internal drive, we can each make a difference when we do good works.

Service Organizations Promoted by Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Shriver

· Corporation for National and Community Service:

· Points of Light Institute:

· California Volunteers:

1 comment:

Lori said...

Hi Bina -

Kudos to you and your students for such awesome GOOD work! What a powerful intersection of responsible kids, good mentoring, and inspiring times!

Please let us know if we can help coordiante grassroots volunteer service in your area. We'd appreciate a link on your site to help spread the word about our free and easy volunteer sign up tool. VolunteerSpot, DOING GOOD just got easier!

Keep up the great work - and thanks for sharing it with us all!!