When it comes to college applications, there is nothing better to juice it up than hours of the applicant lending their hands to those less fortunate. Community service is a big part of college applications. It’s almost a way to prove yourself to be the good person that the colleges claim they are searching for. While it is rare to find a student with no community service hours, it is even more unlikely to find one who is volunteering for the pure enjoyment of helping others.
It is not hard to pick up on the pattern of volunteering; a few hours at Feed My Starving Children, a handful at Bernie’s Book Bank, and a couple at a soup kitchen complete the degree of many students’ community service. There isn’t anything wrong with this list as all of the organizations help others and stand for great causes, but most student volunteers do not take in the experience for everything it is.
I fell into this routine myself. Volunteering because I knew it was good, but I never truly thought about what I was doing. It wasn’t until my junior year when I realized I wanted to do something more, something that instilled a more personal connection to those I was helping. In thinking about the hundreds of organizations and charities across the North Shore there wasn’t one that particularly stuck out to me.
I wanted to make a difference, whether it be for one person or a group.
Thinking about the hundreds of organizations and charities across the North Shore there wasn’t one that particularly stuck out to me. Looking at the needs of our surrounding communities one can discover a need that really speaks to them. Self expression is, and always will be, an obstacle for teenagers to overcome as they grow up in our present day society. For me, writing is a way for people to get to know themselves in greater depths. Our minds open up to the creativity and we don’t rely on others when our own imaginations run free. Writing is one of the great forms of self-expression and creativity, and not enough people are given the opportunity to fully enjoy this gift.
That’s when I found LEARN 6. LEARN 6 is a year-round charter school for kids K-8, for families who are willing to invest in a better education. The school works with the Great Lakes and North Chicago communities, trying their best to grow the minds of the influential youth living there. The school works like a lottery system, being drawn and admitted out of pure luck, and being secured into an enriched school environment. These kids come in excited to learn and grateful for their chance to really be immersed in a system that has opportunities larger than the public schools nearby.
While being so close in proximity to schools like LFHS and Highland Park High School, resources there are very limited to residents not able to afford or to commute to a school like Lake Forest High School or any of the feeder elementary schools. Clubs and peer/teacher run programs are pouring out of our schools and most people take them for granted, not acknowledging that most other schools do not offer the same help to struggling students. After reaching out to Learn 6 it was easy to discover that the school rarely gets volunteers and does not have any sort of writing-based club to give kids the chance to discover more outside of the classroom. After only a few email exchanges and a proper meeting, I started up an after-school creative writing club for kids grades 4-8.
After two and a half years of cookie cutter volunteer hours, I had done something not many people I know can say. It had taken less than a month to start a volunteer program that would not only give kids a new chance, but was something that would forever impact me for the better. The group is small–only four or five kids–but every Thursday brings a huge smile to my face because I can witness firsthand how my presence and commitment mean so much to a handful of kids. Volunteering gives us the power to change something. Even if it is only for a few people, it’s a start.
Next time you go to fill up your hours or to pump your application with your service time, take a step back and take in the experience. Even if it is a big name charity, the power and help they offer are making a difference for someone. Think about what you are doing, the people whose lives are improved by only an hour of your time. The small things matter and a few hours of our time mean more than just a reference name and time to put on paper. Life is more than just building an application, you can touch and improve someone else’s daily life.
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.”
John Bunyan’s words are ones to live by. There is no reason to not intervene when there is a problem that affects someone outside of your life. Reaching out to those who were never given much of a chance to find their voice would be as great a gift to us as it is to them. So the next time you’re volunteering, ask yourself this – how are you bettering yourself and, more importantly, the lives of others?