In late 2015, I volunteered for the first time independently. I decided where I wanted to spend a morning and what organization I would be helping. It was also the first time I had fun participating in community service. Yes, I said the words fun and participation in community service in the same sentence.
I arrived at the Mercer Street Friends Food Bank, a community-run organization aimed at responding to hunger in Mercer County, and, to my surprise, although the name suggested otherwise, I did not sort, carry, or label food the whole time. Instead, for a good portion of the morning, I made "hand turkey" drawings that would be taped to the bags of donations. While I initially questioned the motive behind making these barely like-a-turkey "hand turkeys," as I worked, I began to appreciate the true value of a simple, kind action. I realized that I'm probably not going to be able to change the world on one Saturday morning when my schedule is free. Instead, perhaps, what I managed to do when making these "hand turkeys" was brighten the day of those receiving them. Like our work and social lives, our service lives must have realistic objectives, too. Once I learned to set a realistic aim for my service life, I began to have fun with it.
All too often the meaning of volunteerism is confused with simply participating or merely completing. Sure, community service looks great on a résumé and college applications — but this should be a byproduct of service, not its primary objective. There is a noticeable difference between the passionate volunteer and the forced volunteer; it is not the quality of the work. Usually, it is actually what the volunteer learns from doing the work.
At Solebury School, I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by a group of dedicated, passionate, and realistic students that all have ideas of ways to support a community. Last year, for example, the Solebury Service Society spearheaded and helped support an initiative to provide relief for the victims of Hurricane(s) Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. We raised nearly $3,000. It was incredibly encouraging to see such success. To me, however, the most inspiring service initiative throughout the 2017-18 school year was the Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day. Over fifty members of our community contributed to making blankets for donation to the Alliance Cancer Specialist at Doylestown Hospital, as well as painting and refurbishing furniture for sale at NOVA's (Network of Victim Assistance) thrift stores. Mostly everyone who joined us on that afternoon was passionate about the activities and had fun. Those that weren’t enjoying themselves at first quickly became motivated by the enthusiasm of those around them. The Solebury Service Society will be hosting another Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day on campus on January 21, 2019. Mark your calendars! I hope to see you there.
Community service is not only service to our community, but also service to ourselves. It cultivates our interests, gives us a chance to reflect on and appreciate what we have, and advances humanity. And it can be fun.
Learn more about community service at Solebury here.