I was helping out at a festival last week at my college when a high school student asked me, “So, why are you volunteering?” She had a bewildered look on her face, one that I have become too familiar with recently. Every time a fellow volunteer founds out that I am a college student, I have to face that look and question.
High schools decided to make volunteering a necessary requirement in order to promote the concept of giving back and being part of your community. Unfortunately, the message never got through to the students. Now, it’s just something they need to get over with. And college students, parents, teachers and counselors have played a part in reinforcing the idea that volunteering is just something high school students do in order to graduate, get into good universities and land scholarships. We have failed as a community to promote unity and generosity in our younger generations.
I simply told the high school student that I was just there for fun and was prompty left alone after that; she probably thought I was crazy. I don’t blame her. Because the truth is that standing outside in 90 degree weather giving beverages to people is not fun and hardly brings the sense of satisfaction of doing good. The reality is that I was there because it was a chance to get a free t-shirt, free food, to see the attractive guys that I always somehow missed seeing, maybe make some new friends, to get to know the organizers for future reference letters and opportunities, and to add something to my list of extracurricular activities so that future employers might be more interested. I genuinely enjoy helping others, but that’s not what got me out of bed at 8 a.m. that morning.
People are complaining more and more that it’s getting harder to meet good people, that we’re becoming more and more disconnected from each other. My intention to volunteer that day may have not been to help my college give out free food, but it was to get to know the people that had a similar lifestyle to me. It was to get to know the advisors that sat in the offices I walked by too many times without caring. My intention was to be a more present member of my community. And this is a huge way we all can unite and rebuild the bridges that technology is slowly destroying. I strongly believe that volunteering is the key to getting to know the people that live, study and work around you. It’s the way to bring our community together. But I can’t do it on my own because I’ll always be seen as the crazy college girl. Of course, I have other things that I’m doing to further my career and life, just like everyone else, but I decided to put in some effort to get to know those around me. It’s time for all of us to do the same.
Let’s make volunteering something everyone does to help out their community, instead of something kids do to fulfill school requirements.