Extra Credit: Getting involved: Reconsidering the benefits of community service

Posted by Siena Tugendrajch

It's easy to forget that there's a world outside of our little liberal arts bubble. We may all set our homepages to the New York Times, but that usually means we just skim the headlines before moving on to more pressing matters, like Facebook or Tumblr. We barely make time to watch "The Daily Show." And, while Skidmore encourages community involvement, we are not required to complete any volunteer work or community service during our time here. This policy is not out of the ordinary – most schools do not have a community service requirement – but can engender a sense of apathy toward volunteer work.

Though we're busy with schoolwork, teams and clubs, most Skidmore students could handle an hour or an afternoon each week, or even each month, volunteering. Maybe to some, community service was just padding for the Common App, another chore we have left behind us now that our college counselors leave us alone. People don't realize that now that we've made it to college, service work can be strictly recreational.

Many of us participated in some form of community service before we got here. My high school had countless clubs with vague but intriguing names like Girls Learn International and the Breakfast Club. Our faculty constantly reminded us how privileged we are and how that should affect our interactions with people who have fewer advantages in life. I believe this philosophy should not apply to the Skidmore community and should not be the driving force behind your decision to participate in service work. We can do better than that, Kipling.

In our extracurricular lives, we should constantly be searching for enjoyable activities. The philosophy that work should have greater meaning than a paycheck is part of what the liberal arts are all about. There's no reason this notion shouldn't hold true to our lives right now. For example, four years working as a summer camp counselor has taught me that I love working with kids. Therefore, during the school year, I seek out tutoring opportunities because I know I'll get as much out of the experience as the children with whom I work. If you can find any kind of service work that makes you happy, whether it's finger-painting in Skidmore's own Early Childhood Center or spending an hour playing checkers at a nursing home, there's no reason not to make it part of your routine.

It's also not difficult to get involved. There are tons of volunteer opportunities, all with varying levels of commitment, available in our fair city of Saratoga Springs. Nearby hospitals, nursing homes and homeless shelters appreciate your time. We're adults now, and have real skills and talents to offer. Saratoga Springs alone has six elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, all of which need and seek out tutors and volunteers. There's no need to feel shy about sending emails of inquiry.

Despite these opportunities, some students who want to get involved still don't. Benefaction, our community service club, is one of the largest organizations on campus, but many students outside of the club only hear about volunteer projects in our area through the emailed Student Announcements Digest. It's time to stop thinking of community service as a burden. An hour of tutoring should be as satisfying as an hour of any other extracurricular activity, from physical exercise to guest lectures.

Volunteer work can be educational, rewarding and, if done correctly, extremely fun. It's an opportunity to find work you enjoy, and begin living the ideals we celebrate here at Skidmore. Take a page out of Cher Horowitz's book and start volunteering today. 

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