Ask the Expert: Summer, Sunshine & Community Service
With summer approaching, many of the daily demands on teenagers will begin to fall away. This means more time to pursue other interests and/or obligations they might not have time for during the school year. For many students, one of these obligations is collecting community service hours.
Now, I am not talking about court-ordered community service. That’s a whole separate issue. I’m talking about community service that is related to high school graduation and scholarships. Currently only one state, Maryland plus the District of Columbia, explicitly require community service for graduation. However, most other states highly encourage it by integrating hours into required courses or by tying them to state-funded scholarships like the Bright Futures scholarship in Florida. Even if you live in one of the few states that make no demands for community service hours, they are never a bad thing to have under your belt when it comes time to apply to college or scholarships from other organizations.
So, what counts as community service? Well, in my experience this is the grayest of gray areas. It’s hard to put a fine point on this because the opportunity for community service and activities within that realm are vast. Also, I believe what qualifies as community service is in the eye of the beholder. I suppose the person most qualified to determine whether an activity would count as a service hour is the individual who will or will not accept it. In the context of schools, that is often a counselor or teacher. At my school, that’s me and I would say I’m very liberal in what I accept as a community service hour, but I would never venture to answer for someone else. Therefore, the key here is to ask ahead before you spend a significant amount of time working at something you might not receive credit for.
As far as where to find community service opportunities, those are ample. I think that many teens do a variety of activities that would count as service hours in their regular activities. They just need to be mindful of this and make sure to document the hours. If you volunteer at the concession stand during your little brother’s baseball game, that might count. Just get someone to help you document it. If you still need more hours, reach out to the non-profit organizations in your community, especially in the areas that appeal to you. Do you like animals? See what you can do at the zoo, for example. Trust me, non-profit organizations are always looking for more helping hands. Just ask what they need for you to do.
Summer and other breaks from school are great times to tackle community service requirements. If you start early on in high school and chip away over time, these requirements are usually easy to manage. Try to document everything you do that can count, and you won’t be scrambling at the end of senior year.
Author: Rob Hicks M.Ed.
Rob Hicks has worked in public schools for 16 years. He is a school counselor at Fernandina Beach High School and is the adjunct school counselor at The Ogburn School. He maintains the "Getting My Guide On" blog about all things school counselors at guidey.blogspot.com and writes about local history.