Monday, January 18, 2010

Community Service Today, and Every Day

As Bob and I started out on our Saturday afternoon excursion we stopped to check on a student volunteer who was helping with a community service clean-up project on his own. He had begun a few days before and just needed to finish. I was concerned to see him taking a break when I arrived, but as he toured me through the facility I understood that he had been on task. Leaving him with a verbal list of to-do's in order to put a lid on his efforts, I went about my day wondering what really motivates teenagers and young adults to serve.

Some students with whom I have worked are desperate to do anything that can be counted as community service because they have court-mandated hours after finding mischief and getting into trouble with the law. Others have the same desperation, but only due to the pressure from their parents to rack maximum hours for their transcripts in hopes of Harvard admission or a hefty scholarship. I find the most enjoyment from observing the efforts of the other two groups: 1.) students who find something they are interested in, and they pursue it through service, and 2.) students who simply find joy in giving of themselves, and in doing good.

We adults know the difference between doing something because we are required to by an outside authority and because we want to; speeding tickets and taxes come to mind. The creative juices do not flow when we are working to check off the boxes. Last fall I spoke with Megan Fogarty,
manager of the John Gardner Public Service Fellowship at Stanford University, about the motivation to serve. She mentioned that Stanford had considered making service and volunteering a graduation requirement, but during an informal study the board decided the requirement produced an undesirable effect, the opposite of altruism: obligation.

In working with those who request my assistance in designing purposeful projects to give back to the community, I have begun to distinguish the subtle characteristics between required service and desired service. When the motivation comes from within, from one's unique
talents and interests, the experience is gratifying and growth-promoting. When it comes from an outside source, such as a requirement, the result is often accompanied by a sense of drudgery and dread, (ex: "let's get this over with.") So, in honor of Martin Luther King and the National Day of Service, the third Monday in January, I hope that we can all look inside ourselves for the individual gifts that we have to offer and create something from those commodities, something that was not there before: genuine good works.

Read Susan Ellis' article, "Why Volunteer," for more benefits and motivations of service. Her top 5 reasons:
  • to feel needed
  • to share a skill
  • to get to know a community
  • to demonstrate commitment to a cause/belief
  • to gain leadership skills

No comments: