This is the first of a series of 3 articles on community service.
Incorporating community service into your life is incredibly rewarding and is almost always habit-forming. In fact, it often opens doors for life.
As you consider volunteer options, look for opportunities that fit you—your interests and skills. You don’t have to travel across the world or pay fees to be an effective volunteer. Some of the most engaging community service may be found right in your own backyard and costs nothing but your time and caring.
And the time commitment is entirely up to you. You can be deeply involved in a one-time event or you can sign up for a couple of hours each week. It really doesn’t matter.
Yes, community service pays off in many different ways. By sharing your time and talent with others, you most certainly will:
- Do some good. Volunteers have the opportunity to make a difference—change lives, support a cause, or improve the world around us.
- Discover a passion. Figuring out what you really love to do and channeling it into something productive is the surest road to happiness. And what better way is there to discover passion than through service to others?
- Test-drive careers. If you’re thinking about medicine, teaching, or even large animal husbandry, volunteer in a clinic, a school or on a farm. Community service provides hands-on experience and opportunities to explore different career paths.
- Polish job-readiness skills. Being dependable, on time, and responsible not only makes you a great volunteer but also prepares you for entering the world of work. In addition, you can develop communication, organization, and invaluable “people” skills, all of which make you incredibly employable.
- Learn to collaborate. At its core, volunteerism is about teamwork. The ability to collaborate on a shared goal is an essential element of community service, whether it’s participating on a construction crew for Habitat for Humanity or fundraising for the American Cancer Society. And along the way, you may learn how to develop a business plan, schedule activities, and assign tasks—all valued skills for prospective business majors.
- Expand your network. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and build solid connections to businesses, schools, or other community-based organizations. These are the kinds of relationships that tend to grow and blossom, particularly if you find yourself working in a team or supporting a cause.
- Get a recommendation: A byproduct of the volunteer experience can be a strong personal recommendation for college, scholarships, or future employment. While teachers and counselors can speak to academic and school-based accomplishments, some of your best character references will come from among supervisors and co-workers in organizations to which you contributed volunteer hours.
- Challenge your comfort zone. If life as a high school student has become a little boring and predictable, try volunteering in a totally unfamiliar part of your community or serving a population with which you don’t ordinarily interact. Expose yourself to new ideas, challenges and situations that will help you grow as a person.
- Enhance scholarship prospects. Although service to others should be its own reward, there’s no question that colleges, foundations, and businesses are willing to acknowledge service by awarding very generous scholarships. Winners of these kinds of honors typically begin early and dedicate significant hours throughout high school.
- Build leadership skills. As a volunteer, you may be presented with opportunities to build supervisory, management, or decision-making skills as a team leader or project organizer. You might even get the opportunity to explore your entrepreneurial side. These are talents that colleges, scholarship organizations, and employers value highly.
- Receive academic credit. If your school offers service-learning as part of the curriculum, you could be eligible for academic or extra credit if you volunteer your time or get involved in a community-based project. In fact, high schools are increasingly seeing the benefits accrued by students engaged in various kinds of ‘experiential learning’ opportunities and are moving to make them required for graduation.
- Upgrade college portfolio. Colleges want to see that you’ve done something more with your summer than texting or posting pictures on Instagram. Community service provides strong evidence of character, commitment, and motivation—all of which are pluses in college admissions.
- Discover an essay. The best college essays flow from personal experience. In fact, essay questions often ask about significant achievements, events, or people—all of which may be found by volunteering.
- Learn something. You learn by doing. And if you’re lucky, you may even be offered specific skills training you can take with you long after the event or project is completed.
- Be a role model. As a volunteer, you set an important example for your friends, family and community. When you step up, others will follow.
- Do some good. This cannot be overstated.
So get involved. You really will make a world of difference for yourself and others!