Community Disservice


Matthew Yam

A few weeks ago, I was thrust into a Facebook group without my consent. “Harvard-Westlake Community Council” was the title. “Hmm, How uplifting,” I thought. Then I saw the first post: “Hi! I’m the leader of a club with a good name that will look good on my college application, and I’m here to tell you that if you don’t fill out our form reporting what community service you did over the summer by this specific date, we will make your hours not count. That’s right, I get to make your community service hours null and void.”

I was petrified. Did this mean that the months I spent planning, organizing, and carrying out my Eagle Scout project wouldn’t count? Did this mean that if my dear friends didn’t report that they came to help me out, they didn’t even come to help at all? If a tree falls and nobody is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Yes, it does make a sound. Regardless of whether anyone is there. Not only does the tree make a sound, it also makes an impact all around it. So to answer my other question, yes, the community service we do does in fact still count, even if you don’t report it to the Community Coalition. It’s important to ask yourself, why do I do community service? If your answer is “I need to fulfill my school requirement,” then you’re doing it wrong. You are aware that you could just as easily make something up and turn your sheet in, right? You may as well spend those 12 hours (or 13 so the school doesn’t get suspicious) doing something you enjoy. We don’t get a lot of time off, anyway.

But if you really want to make an impact in your community, then go out and find something you enjoy. For me, it’s working through my Boy Scout troop and teaching little kids how to become upstanding citizens. The most rewarding thing about community service is not that you get to record a certain number of hours, rather, it’s about the impact you have on the lives of others. That’s another reason why the hour system is skewed. If you go on a heal the bay trip and screw around with a friend for 5 hours, sure, you can report that you did 5 hours of “community service”, but in reality, you made no impact. Conversely, say you help a kid learn to read or create a therapy garden for a hospital. You’ll be able to record 20 hours or so, but the impact will be much greater. You’ve done something that will continue to benefit others for a lifetime. That’s real community service, and it represents a lot more than the number you report to the Charity Club.

Okay, maybe I wasn’t really stricken with fear when I saw the Facebook post, but what I’m saying is, if you don’t want to do community service, you don’t have to. Nobody can force you to do it. It’s a waste of time. If you want to do it, there are so many opportunities to contribute to something bigger than yourself. And if you forget to turn in that form, don’t sweat it. I promise that  knowing you’ve improved someone’s life is a lot more rewarding than clicking “My Schedule and Events” and seeing “Outreach hours: 12”