Talk about a win-win situation.
Students at Ridge High School are required during their sophomore years to arrange for 25 hours of "community service," and file their completed assignment through their history class.
The projects can vary — contributing hours to a cause such as Habitat for Humanity, or donating time to an organization in the township or a nearby community.
This is definitely an arrangment that benefits all. The students learn to give something of themselves to a larger cause — and to realize they are part of a community with many needs. The groups or causes they serve also receive an influx of local volunteers.
The students must have submit their proposed community service project for approval by their teachers, who also have a list of suggestions for those who need help deciding what they want to do.
Sometimes, what begins as a school community service project can take on a life of its own. Last year, students who joined together to tutor students at a Newark school for their community service project found themselves involved way beyond their minimum 25 hours.
More than 50 Ridge students eventually became involved in tutoring at BRICK Avon Academy in Newark last year as a result of an idea initially sparked by the community service requirement. Some said they were drawn to the program because they wanted to make a difference. And some said they found that not only were they bringing about change — but they changed in the process and found a shift in perspective.
“It’s gotten me to think a lot about stereotypes. If you give in to a belief in the stereotypes you might think that the kids in Newark are not as smart as the kids in Basking Ridge, but that’s just not true,” said Alayna Grewal, a junior last year at Ridge.
“Actually what I found is that they are very devoted and they want a better life. One young girl said to me ‘My mom really wants me to do well.’ It made me realize what a strong desire these kids have to change their lives in a positive way,” said Grewal who not only serves as a tutor but has helped with the coordination of the program and began a fundraising effort last year.
Other students logging community service hours also find themselves involved for longer term than planned, even if not on such a dramatic basis. My own son, a sophomore, spends time playing games and keeping company with older residents who are among those requiring more medical care at Fellowship Village in Basking Ridge.
It's sometimes a struggle to get him to be a joiner. But he did look forward to doing the project, and it brought out the empathetic side of his personality. He says he intends to continue the visits even after fulfilling his requirement.
The community service hours originally were required for honors history students, but the idea was expanded to all students. It was through the honors history class that my older son, an avid swimmer, assisted swim classes at the Somerset Hills YMCA, and then helped the staff at the Bernardsville Public Library. (Our own library was overbooked with student volunteers.) So a word of thanks to the organizations who spend time coordinating the efforts of student volunteers.
So, what community service project has your student completed in the past? If you have a younger student, are they thinking of how they might want to spend those required hours (or beyond)?
Where do they come up with ideas? Do they talk to friends? Or are they already involved in a cause that can translate into required hours?
Do you think this is a good idea? Has your organization received some benefit from this pool of young volunteers?
And — most of all — what did your student think about the idea of community service?
Did they look forward to it? Resist at first, and then maybe get enthusiastic once they actually began putting in the time?
Do you have any ideas where next year's students might be needed for community service?
Please tell us your ideas in the comments section below.
Which brings us to the mention of the deadline for finishing this year's community service hours. It's May 1 for completing hours and filing the paperwork in class! So get busy if you have a few hours to go!