There was a time in my youth where the phrase “community service” only signified some kind of mandated punishment. To me, there was no benefit that I would experience from doing volunteer work. I felt that the only people benefiting from this activity were either the people who would receive the fruits of my labor, or the organization itself. I was immature and wrong.
After I graduated from high school and had the opportunity to leave the sheltered suburbs of my childhood, my perspective on community service slowly began to shift. This was an important period of time where I could redefine my identity. I took specific moments to reflect on who I was, how I impact those around me, and who I wanted to be.
My honest reflection revealed that I was pretty darn selfish for the first 18 years of my life. My parents were supporting me financially and I really only focused on baseball, school, and my friendships. I spent virtually all of my time focused on myself. After my period of reflection I felt that I needed to change my contribution to those around me. I had time that didn’t need to be devoted to myself. Initially, I tried spending more time with family and doing more work around the house when I was home, though, these attempts at filling the “selfish” void felt unfulfilling. My “ah-ha moment” came during the first semester of my sophomore year at Denison University. As a member of the baseball team I was granted the opportunity to read to kindergartners of the Newark Ohio school district that winter. To give some context, the Newark area has experienced a bought of poverty over the last 30 years, and most of these students were from disadvantaged families.
On a cold February morning, 2 teammates and I read a short story to two different groups of students in the Newark library basement. After finishing the story, we were told to stress how smart the students were and that a college education is a worthy goal. I was blown away with the impressionability of the children and how much I felt that afternoon had positively impacted their psyches. Not only did I feel that the students benefited from our volunteer work, but this feeling itself made ME feel good. I had never volunteered in a way where my actions directly helped someone sitting next to me. This experience made me want to continue giving back to the communities in which I’m a member, and even to those that I am not.
The moral of this story is that community service can be a mutually beneficial endeavour. Volunteer work isn’t a punishment, it is awesome. Not only does it help those who are in need, but it also creates a positive legacy for you. Ask yourself the question “how will I be remembered”? Was I a selfish guy who never lent a hand, or was I someone who improved the lives of others? This specific time was important to my development as a person, yet it can take place at any time for any person who chooses to reflect honestly. Organizations desperately need volunteers and those who volunteer benefit as much, if not more than those they are serving.