Pad your heart, not your resume

After a Student Success Project presentation, there is usually a common question from a student -“does the type of community service I do really matter?”

The world is changing in a way that seems out of control. Technology has been smothering humanity while connecting us to totally impersonal networks. Having our kids perform service at a young age allows them to see they can be connected to the world and can impact it through human touch.

I’ve been doing some sort of volunteer work for as long as I can remember. I can think of dozens of reasons why it’s clearly one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and the community.

I’m such an advocate of service, when we had our ad agency, all employees were required to volunteer – on company time and were paid. Through our charitable arm, The Piggy Bank Fund, everyone was given eight hours a month to volunteer anywhere they wanted.

So I clearly get why students are required to perform community service. I’m just not a fan of the mechanism. It needs to be reworked so it is what it should be – more meaningful.

Nowadays, community service hours can unfortunately be “found and justified” everywhere. If it were up to me, services hours would not be given for umpiring sports of any kind. Being a member of the marching band and performing at half time – just doesn’t count. A field cleanup for a field you’re playing on – bogus. Just distributing t-shirts at an event – no way. You get what I’m saying.

Yes, we all know parents and students whose priority it is to ensure that the route to college is paved with as many community service hours with no concern as to whether it’s even important.

Admissions officials are also becoming more savvy in discerning the students with a real devotion to volunteering from those who merely dabble to pad their resume. What they really want is for our students to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Otherwise, it may be best not to bother. If a student isn’t truly committed, a college admission official is likely to catch on.

Similarly, these officials become skeptical when they see an applicant who boasts a long list of one-time commitments, from fundraisers and car washes to food drives and bake sales.

Instead of showing well roundedness, this type of scattershot volunteer record suggests that the student has no real connection to what they’ve been doing. The same reasoning goes for students who participate in pricey community service trips overseas.

Now comes the argument – But does it really matter why it’s done? Isn’t it enough to volunteer, no matter the motive? Some say yes, some say no. However in my world it does matter. I think everyone should volunteer because not only is it good for you and your family, but more important – it’s great for others.

It’s also great for the GPA. Volunteering can have an enormous impact on student numbers without having to take an insurmountable amount of AP or Honor courses. Students who volunteer have improved reading, math, science and history scores. Also, students who volunteer are 19 percent more likely to graduate from college than those that don’t.

We must get our kids to understand that real community hours are those that cause positive change for people. It is not a box that is checked off or a task that is fulfilled. Volunteering shouldn’t be about just showing up. It should about leaving your imprint and knowing that on some level you changed a life when you leave.

This column is by Ritchie Lucas, Founder of The Student Success Project and Think Factory Marketing. He can be reached at 305-788-4105 or via email and on Facebook and You Tube as The Student Success Project.

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