A 6th grader at Marsh Middle School named Tay Tay sat at a desk in the counselor’s room quietly waiting for two Hockaday students, or her so called “mentors,” from Girl Talk to arrive. Despite her shyness and reluctance to talk to them, Tay Tay learned to open up to these girls and confide in them about her family, friends and teachers. The girls came back each week, not because they wanted another activity to add to their resume, but because someone depended on them not only as a friend but also as mentor to guide them through the ups and downs of friendships, family relationships and the day to day life of a sixth grader.
Being one of Tay Tay’s mentors, I learned that one person can make an impact because sometimes all someone needs is a friend, someone to talk to and confide in when it feels like the world is against them. Being this friend to Tay Tay changed the way I see community service.
In middle school, with a limited exposure to community service, it can be easy to overlook the importance of stepping out of our bubble of privilege because how can only one person make an impact? However, at the beginning of high school after hearing horror stories of college admission, students are driven by competition to be the “best” and go above and beyond their community service hour requirement, without really thinking or caring about they work they are doing. Whether it be another award or activity to add to their resume, for some students community service has morphed into a sort of “self-service”. Hopes of seeming like a “better person” to colleges or simply making themselves feel better has taken away from the true purpose of community service.
We see this, especially when students try to find a problem to “fix.” Instead of listening to the people they are serving, volunteers will assume a “problem” and try to fix it, while the problem may not need fixing or another real problem is being overlooked. For example, someone may decide to organize an event to raise money for school supplies, when in reality the school they are organizing this for is not lacking in supplies but instead needs more tutors to volunteer at its after-school program. This further shows that the person is doing this act of “community service” to feel better about themselves and add another bullet point to their resume because in reality they aren’t engaging or making a difference in their community.
But this isn’t always the case. Some students have learned to be a role model to the kids that don’t have anyone else to look up to in their lives. They impact communities by telling people what they are capable of and pushing them to fight for the opportunities they deserve.
How can we all change? We need to learn to listen. Listen to a community’s needs instead of assuming them. Be present. Stop texting and think about what you came to do and who you came to do it for. Learn to be a friend to the kid whose parents are undocumented immigrants and is scared to come home without a family. Learn to be a teacher to the kid whose speaks English as their second language and has trouble keeping up with curriculum. Once you learn to be that person for someone, community service can no longer be that bullet point on your resume. It becomes something real. When someone depends on you like that, you do it, not for yourself, but for them.
– Amelia Brown – Asst. Sports & Health Editor –