Down and dirty, part 1

The skinny on community service
By T Martin (as Escritor X)

In North Philly where “getting the paper” doesn’t mean picking up a periodical to keep current with local and world events, “community service” also carries a negative connotation – doing the dirty work – for a lot of kids.

For most, community service has come to mean getting your hands dirty, cleaning up one of many trashed, vacant lots around the neighborhood. For some, it means scrubbing or painting or graffiti or planting a garden in some God-forsaken nook of the ghetto.

In North Philly where people would sooner spit on you than help you take out the garbage, “lending a hand” is the last thing you want to do anymore because you might not get the hand back. Community service, then, means doing the thankless for the ungrateful, the satisfaction of a job well done lost in the cloud of unthankful neighbors that couldn’t care less about the quality of the work, let alone the sacrifices made to accomplish the task.

And every day, some community activist tells a teen or group of teens, “You are the future. We’re moving on in years, and it’s up to you – the young people – to serve your community and make it a better place for yourselves and for your children.” In that sense they refer to the present, not the future, because more and more teens already have children!

What youths must see is that community service doesn’t necessarily mean all those negative things they see take place. Community service can be something as simple as spending time with a senior or helping a sick child find happiness. It can be walking a dog or helping some animal find a home with a loving, caring family. It can be writing a letter for someone or just giving others enough time of the day to help them realize that someone cares about what’s important to them.

Community service, by definition, is a positive thing. The negative connotations attached to it are purely in the mind. True, if someone were to ask me if I’d like to help with a community service project, I’d think about all the “Community Day of Service” events I’ve attended with the paint buckets and drop cloths and mops and so forth. What about the murals, though? What about volunteering for a local non-profit organization for a few hours?

This month I leave kids with this thought: get the negative thinking behind “community service” out of your head. Think for a moment about what is interesting to you. Do some research – in yellow pages, on the Internet – for opportunities to put your time and energy into something positive that will let you do whatever it is you like most.

Don’t overlook those programs and initiatives that might seem boring to you at first glance. Consider a focus group that might not appeal to your deepest desires, but that offers some byproduct or benefit that you can use and enjoy.

Do you have a hobby? Look for places or people that want your talent in that area? Or try to find a company or non-profit organization that offers a product or service involving that hobby. Go a step beyond that, and maybe start a class or workshop in a local community center where you can offer instruction in your area of expertise.

Most importantly, kids, is to share. Share yourself through volunteerism, but also share the information and knowledge you gain as you seek opportunities. Volunteer and community service experience can and SHOULD be included in your resume or job/college applications. Some of the most successful people in their fields volunteered their time at some point or another, whether they wanted to or not.

What is the primary goal? To find opportunities to volunteer what you know or do best. Provide a service to community today, and prepare yourself for a better tomorrow. Sure, it’s great if you like manual labor and can put in hours a day helping clean up some dirty lot or paint some eye-sore walls. Just keep in mind that the greatest service you can provide to self, family or community is giving your time and energy in a selfless way.

So get out there and squelch the negativity surrounding those words “community service.” Help yourself to a piece of life, and then help those around you discover the joys of giving that you have found for yourself. Look for the chance to shine in a field or hobby that you like most, and then share that information with others who want to learn it or with those that are looking for their chance to succeed.

Next month, explore some places in which you can quickly get involved with community service. For middle and high school students who need to complete community service hours and a multi-disciplinary project as promotion/graduation requirements, don’t let those hours or that project be the last of it. Read up next month on where you can go, who you can talk to, and what you can do to provide service to your community!