Striving to Serve: Some students struggle with the community service requirement


Photo illustration by Sam Ko and Alison Oh

Kendall Dees

Shelly* ’19 handed in her community service form nonchalantly. The form read ‘12 hours completed,’ enough to fulfill the year-long requirement.

In reality, Shelly had only worked a few hours baking cookies for her local humane shelter, but the dishonesty did not stop her from submitting.

Shelly said she did not feel ashamed that she wasn’t completely truthful because it is common among students.

14 percent of 287 respondents to a Chronicle poll said they have reported inaccurate community service hours in the past.

“They gave me twelve hours for doing basically nothing,” Shelly said. “I feel like there is a need to do community service. I just don’t have enough time to commit myself to going a lot.”

Students report their hours by submitting a form to Chaplain J. Young or Director of Student Affairs Jordan Church describing the community service they completed and how many hours they worked.

Even though Shelly believes it is wrong to fake your community service hours, she argues that it is too difficult for her to find opportunities to get involved.

Between schoolwork and other commitments, Shelly said she doesn’t have the time necessary to commit to a service program.

“For me, I don’t really know what I can get involved in for community service because in order to participate in a lot of the things that I have seen, you need to apply, and it’s kind of a process,” Shelly said. “I just want to do something on the weekend or something where I can just show up.”

Likewise, Mark* ’18 admitted to occasionally reporting hours that he did not actually complete.

Although Mark volunteers at his great aunt’s retirement home, after she passed away a few years ago, he found it difficult to maintain his level of commitment to volunteering. Preoccupied with juggling school and extracurricular activities, Mark said he no longer had enough time to work long hours.

He speculated that most kids, busy with schoolwork and college applications, feel that they could use potential time spent volunteering in more productive ways, such as studying.

“I feel like I don’t always have enough time,” Mark said. “Also, I don’t think that me doing two more hours of a certain thing that I do with helping the elderly is going to make that much of a difference.”

Young said he trusts students to submit an honest amount of hours. However, he is aware that is not always the case.

“If and when we do catch it, it would become an Honor Board case,” Young said, “But the bottom line is we are trying to promote an honorable society in this school where your word is good.”

Young said he hopes the requirement provides an opportunity for students to find a cause that they are passionate about, or something that they otherwise may not have discovered on their own.

Before Young and Church took over the community service program, students were rewarded for accumulating large volumes of hours.

However, Young said that he and Church modified the program in order to emphasize quality of work over quantity.

“Doing a hundred and something hours is great, but let’s look at what you are really doing and what the quality is and the experience that you are having and the experience that the people who you are serving are having,” Young said.

Young said that he is not optimistic enough to think that students always develop a lifelong habit of community service, but is happy when it does happen.

“It’s kind of like an English teacher requiring you to read a book,” Young said. “The English teacher’s real goal is to get you in the habit of reading and making that something you want to do on your own, but they have to start by saying, ‘You have to read this book.’ That’s [the kind of habit] that we have to start by saying that you need twelve hours.”

Community Council, which aims to help students get involved in community service, is one of the resources available on campus.

They provide students with opportunities to participate in community service, primarily through organizing events for students in collaboration with clubs on campus, such as last year’s Make-a-Wish event and blood drives.

“I feel like Community Council is a really great way for students to get involved with community service on campus,” club member Natalie Choi ’18 said. “I think it is also a really great gateway into finding initiatives that really speak to you and that you want to make a difference in, and then students can go further by themselves.”

Choi volunteers in the art studio at the Skirball Center, participates in the Skirball Teen Council and has an internship with the Red Cross. She said that she hopes students will be encouraged by the community service requirement to get even more involved in their communities.

“Most kids at Harvard-Westlake are born with so much privilege, and we have so much just handed to us and so many people don’t,” Choi said. “Going out into your community and meeting people with different socioeconomic backgrounds and different ethnic backgrounds, different everything, is a really great chance to grow as a person and as a student. I feel like community service, for me, has been the best way that I can experience that kind of maturity and growth.”

Like Choi, Rachel Grode ’19 volunteers in community service programs that continue year-round and require continuous work and attendance. Grode works at Camp Harmony, where she has since earned over 230 hours of community service per year.

Grode recalled a morning at the camp when she helped encourage a nervous young girl to participate in the group field games with the rest of her peers.

Grode said moments like these have been very emotional for her and have emphasized how meaningful the camp is and how much it can impact children’s lives.

“Her face just lit up and she was holding my hand and smiling and having the time of her life,” Grode said. “It was really cool to see her shift from being quiet and shy to smiling and laughing just because she had a friend to play with her.”

Grode first heard about the organization from friends in the grade above her who were previously involved.

“The program itself is so special and working to provide children with opportunities and hope is one of the best feelings,” Grode said.

Grode said the feeling of joy and fulfillment that a volunteer can get in return for participating in community service is unparalleled.

“I would hope that what we are doing, or what we are trying to do, is to at least introduce kids to the idea of service,” Young said. “[We want] for them to have a good experience doing it and, in the best of all worlds, for it to develop into a lifelong habit for them.”

*Names have been changed.