By: Sam O’Keefe
The 40-hour community service graduation requirement at AHS stands as one of the most familiar and least contested items on each student’s lengthy to-do list. Giving time, energy and attention toward people, events, and organizations within Arlington and nearby communities, while asking for nothing in return, illustrates a common value rooted in the school’s environment and culture. With plentiful churches, fundraisers, food banks, townwide and community events, and those in need, ample opportunities present themselves for students to volunteer.
Surely when students are able to engage in service work that appeals to them and their interests, a more fulfilling experience results. And students at AHS prove that community service comes in interesting, varied forms.
Erin O’Brien, class of 2016, speaks highly of her experiences as president of the Do-Something Club’s AHS chapter. As a member and subsequent leader of this club, O’Brien has demonstrated her commitment to it and all the activities in which it involves itself. With other members of the club, she has made birthday and holiday cards for homeless shelter residents, held gift-wrapping fundraisers for the Arlington Food Pantry, cleaned up the Arlington bike path, cooked and served meals at soup kitchens like Haley House and via the food service program Arlington EATS, along with many other activities. The club president speaks for her club, explaining that volunteering, “takes us out of the ‘bubble’ we sometimes live in by reminding us that other people are facing problems much bigger than ours.” For her, and surely for many others, community service brings an enlightening view to those who become involved, giving them a more comprehensive view of their community and world.
Rebecca Choi, class of 2016, has certainly developed that more complete, empathic perspective. As the daughter of a pastor, Choi is accustomed to her church and its abundance of children. To be of assistance, she helps out at Sunday School and takes care of the kids, while acting as an emergency babysitter. She writes, “I have always had a heart for little kids, and I am always ready to serve.” Kids are important to Choi, and this is what makes her so inclined to volunteer and make a difference. The young woman notes how she has seen hardships personally, which have inspired her to undertake and value community service and its benefits. She explains, “Since I was young, I have seen my parents help so many people (Korean immigrants in particular) and I know that has been a major factor in my life.”
Her understanding of the struggles of others has led her to pursue meaningful work. When asked what one of her most memorable experiences is, she recounts a time while she was a counselor at the Uber St. camp in inner-city Philadelphia: a camper told her that she wanted to work at a nail salon when she grew up. While there certainly is nothing wrong with a career at a nail salon, Choi could see the intelligence and potential in this little girl; that was when she knew how much of an impact teachers and counselors like herself could have on those little kids, which brought her comfort.
That passion for positivity and leaving a significant footprint is shared with Alvina Napit, class of 2016, who has immersed herself in several service projects and organizations throughout her high school career. As a student who moved to Arlington from Nepal, finding community service opportunities aided with her difficult transition. She helped collect donations last year for a Nepalese earthquake relief fund. She has also shown her enthusiasm for kids and helping them pursue their interests by volunteering at the Arlington Community Education program Summer Fun, a summer camp program for kids entering first-ninth grade.
A veteran volunteer, Napit has spent her last few summers working all five weeks of the camp, engaging with children in their specialized classes and during recess on the field. Napit reflects on her service work, explaining that, “it has helped me gain confidence by trying something new and getting a sense of achievement…[and it has] also given me the opportunity to develop social skills to work with other people.” She appreciates the positive effects that her service efforts have brought to herself as a person. In conclusion, she states how, “my enthusiasm to volunteer has given me a sense of achievement and motivation, and more importantly a change in myself.” It seems that community service can oftentimes reap mutual benefits for the givers and the receivers.
And for Erin Ay, class of 2016, and Claire Kitzmiller, class of 2019, this intrinsic motivation to help others and be rewarded in such a unique way appears strong and purposeful. Throughout her four years of high school, Ay has volunteered with the Arlington-Teosinte Sister City Project (ATSCP). Ay has enjoyed her ventures with the ATSCP as she’s been able to help provide scholarships to children living in Teosinte, El Salvador, as they pursue higher education. She also recognizes how these efforts have helped strengthen the bond between sister cities Teosinte and Arlington. As an AP Spanish student, Ay was able to connect to the organization and to the ethnicity of the students, learning more about a different culture, and, similar to volunteers previously mentioned, gaining a wider perspective of the world and its issues. Ay has also filled important roles within the American Diabetes Association, fundraising and bringing together the diabetic community.
Kitzmiller has already exceeded the 40-hour service requirement in her first year of high school, spreading herself into many different forms of volunteering. She has a passion for kids, similar to Rebecca Choi. As an experienced dancer, Kitzmiller has taken it upon herself to direct all the dancing knowledge she has learned onto the fledgling dancers. Assisting her teacher at the Deborah Abel’s dance studio in Lexington, the freshman has helped prepare students for performances, encouraged them to create choreography, and made sure that they are focused on dance and collaboration.
There is no doubt that a multitude of community service opportunities exists. I asked all who I interviewed for this article a question, and that was: “What makes it worthwhile to do community service for you?”. While I received various responses, there appeared a unifying theme: the singular, intangible feeling of accomplishment and pleasure resulting from doing good for others. O’Brien couldn’t have put it any better: “I love the unmatched feeling of productivity after being part of a service project.” I also asked my interviewees if they planned to continue volunteering in college, to which all affirmed yes. Community service for them, and for many others, has become an enduring, personal value.
The 40-hour graduation requirement that appears daunting to some has been surpassed by these impressive volunteers, and also by many other students, who have amassed hundreds of hours of service. Yet, seasoned volunteers will attest that service work is so much more than numbers and figures. It’s about that indescribable, powerful feeling that individuals experience when they take that important step, when they give themselves wholly to whoever or whatever needs help.