Are Service Hour Requirements Detracting from the true meaning of community service?


Emily Thomas , Editor in Chief

  Throughout the high school process, most students eventually discover the importance of service hours. From college applications, to scholarships, to requirements for honors societies, they are virtually inescapable. Aimed to get students involved in the community, service has the potential to open a vast world of opportunities. Unfortunately, the current mentality behind service hours is not what it ought to be. In reality, the drive to gain service hours is not innate in most; it comes with time and plentiful experience. However, changing the dynamic of service hours can shape earning them into a self-motivating initiative.  


   Currently, service hours are merely another box to check in the long list of things to complete by the end of high school. I need 100 service hours for Bright Futures. I need 15 hours to stay in Math Honors Society. I need to have at least 75 service hours to get into such and such college. The problem with this mindset is that it defeats the whole purpose of serving. Service should be self-less, not selfish. Referring to service hours from the standpoint that they benefit us takes away from the fact that we should be doing it to benefit others.  


   Instead of serving for a particular cause, we are merely collecting volunteer hours—these are not the same thing. For instance, going to a stadium cleanup for 15 minutes and claiming 2 “hours” is not service—it is filling a slot to meet a requirement. This doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a good thing by helping to clean the football stadium. However, emphasizing why cleaning the stadium is beneficial or helpful reiterates why it is important to do it. For many, understanding the importance gives them a reason to continue and motivates them to take action. Without the emphasis on why, it fosters a mentality that overlooks the true meaning of service.  


   If we wanted to make serving a more meaningful experience, giving more flexibility in the kind of work students can do to meet their requirements can allow students to take more value in their work. For instance, if National Honors Society requires 10 hours per semester to remain a member, each student (or group of students) should pick a cause, then contribute 10 hours to that particular issue. If I wanted to dedicate my 10 hours to an environmental cause, I could volunteer with an organization who specializes in wildlife conservation. If I wanted to do something to benefit lower-income schools, I could organize a drive to donate new books to the school. This empowers students to think outside the realm of volunteering and into the mentality of meaningful service.  


   By honing in on one particular cause, you develop a more in-depth understanding of the issue. Why has this become a problem? What can be done to fix it? Once we can answer these questions, we can come up with creative solutions that have long lasting effects. Additionally, by devoting a lot of effort to one cause, you naturally become more invested in it. You gain much more insight when you commit to a single cause as opposed to passing time with mundane, surface-level tasks. Once you build this basis of knowledge and investment, you have created a foundation that further promotes engagement.  


   It is important to remember the meaning of serving. Service should be meaningful with the intent of making a lasting impact. It is perfectly fine to keep track of the hours you spend serving, because service is a big accomplishment. But when we are only getting service hours because we have to or we are dishonest in reporting them to make ourselves look better, it does not mean anything.