(as submitted to the College Crier)
The other day, a student asked for help in completing an application for a scholarship. He was the first one in his family to attend college and many of the aspects and terminology of higher education were new to him. Although his parents had not attended school in this country, they had placed a great deal on importance on education and grades.
But the question asking him to explain his community service stumped him. Like many students, he attended classes, studied and worked. He spent time with his family and friends. For many people, not only students, volunteering is not a regular occurrence. For many, it is not even considered.
Yet, the benefits can far outweigh the efforts.
There are some people for whom volunteering regularly is not an option. Struggling to secure basic needs can be enough of a challenge on time and resources to prohibit donating them to others.
But even for those who are struggling, finding a way to help others brings a variety of meaningful benefits.
There are numerous ways a person can help others. Time, finances, material goods, and ideas all can be offered. An afterschool program for at-risk children did not charge families for their child to attend, but it did request that each family make a monthly contribution of their own choice. The offerings ranged from weekly donations of snack for the entire program to a single box of cake mix, from a family who found a supply of craft materials at a garage sale to a father who came in once a month to teach the children a new game in the gym.
The goal of the donation request was not to ease the needs of the after-school program though. Instead, it sought to offer the families and the children an opportunity to serve their community.
As participants of the program, the children knew that were “at-risk” and had a history of being recipients of assistance. All children are passive members of society with parents, schools and community giving or doing to them. But an opportunity to return assistance gives them the change to actively engage in the social interaction. In the same way, college students can return or pass on any assistance they received as children.
By allowing each family to decide how they would contribute, the families had the opportunity to evaluate their abilities and resources not only in light of what they had, but also with how they could be used. College students typically are better able to donate time and ability rather than money. It is with this that college students around the county donated their Spring Breaks this year to assisting in the reconstruction of New Orleans.
However, students can be and often are generous with their cash. Earlier this month, the Muslim Student Association of MVCC staffed a table to take donations for the daughter of a local police officer killed in the line of duty. In the 5 hours of collecting, numerous students stopped by the table and gave a few dollars or emptied their pockets of lose change. Almost $300 was collected for the fund.
Whether with time, goods or money, college students do volunteer. But a contribution that is usually lacking from college students is that of their ideas.
Actively engaged in learning, students are often able to develop ideas that reach beyond the usual standards. Typically, most community groups desire college students because of their combination of energy and learning. By forming new clubs on campus to volunteering in political campaigns, the infusion of new thoughts and excitement makes a significant difference.
All of these benefits echo into the community of the student, which in turn improves their environment. But too, it has the direct benefit of demonstrating that the student is an active participant in their world and not just a consumer.
Thus the student can show now only ownership of his or her abilities, but also the willingness to invest the abilities in the community. And beyond benefiting the world the student is it, it also increases the investment scholarship committees and employees are willing to make in the student.