When I first became a tour guide for Violet’s Key in 9th grade, I was told to emphasize the fact that at Marlborough we do not have mandatory service hours, but a majority of students still find a way to give back to the community. The idea was to show that Marlborough girls are not forced to volunteer, but instead are motivated by their desire to serve others and their passion to make a difference. While I believe that many students genuinely want to participate in community service, the idea of the awards given for 100 hours of community service at the upper school award ceremony directly contradicts the goal of creating an environment where students volunteer because of a deep commitment.
There is already a strong feeling that many students only participate in community service to pad their college applications. I think that there is definitely truth to this, and I have frequently heard my classmates talk about wanting to volunteer for the sole purpose of adding the hours to their resumes. The idea of rewarding students for trying to make a difference perpetuates the idea that people who participate in community service need some kind of recognition or prize.
One of the arguments for giving awards for community service is that it increases the visibility of those who commit a substantial amount of time to volunteering and helps motivate others to do the same. However, when students are given awards, only their name and the number of hours they volunteered is stated. No one knows what they did or why they did it. In this way, it seems as if the school is telling us to just volunteer for the recognition and personal gain. Also, a system of rewarding people based only on the number of hours does not take into account the quality of the work. It is possible to have a huge impact without a huge time commitment, for example tutoring a child for an hour weekly after school can have just as large an impact as an entire summer spent on a community service project. In my opinion, this possibility is something that should be communicated to students, as it makes community service seem more appealing and accessible.
One solution to this issue would be to create a different way to recognize students’ participation in community service. Of course, it feels good to be appreciated by your peers, therefore a different system might be more successful in inspiring others to volunteer. Maybe there could be short blurbs written about students who make large commitments to community service, or have certain students highlighted in the weekly email with photos of them volunteering. This way, volunteers would still feel appreciated by the community but other students would know what community service they did and why it is important to them. I have volunteered every year since 7th grade, and as cliché as it may sound, the amazing part of volunteering is the feeling of having an impact on the greater community and making a difference—no award necessary.π