Why a community service mentality opens a world of possibilities for students

August 11, 2017 | Posted in: Elementary, High School, Middle Years

This week, my third child and soon-to-be high school senior received his application to the National Honor Society.

My first thought? “Cool. It would be great to see him recognized in this way…” immediately followed by, “I hope he has fulfilled the community service requirement!”

When this application arrived for my oldest child, I had a moment of pause and then remembered he served as an assistant coach and he and his friends had performed at various local community events. My daughter was also involved in so many charitable endeavors that I knew she had more than met the requirements.

Somehow, finding the community service match for my third child, who is quiet and low key, had slipped through the cracks.

How do we raise them all the same way and yet they are entirely different from one another?

It made me wonder: How do we create a community service mindset in children? How do we help them recognize that giving is so much better than receiving? And, how do we find service projects that meet children’s personalities?

The facts matter

In early 2005, The Corporation for National and Community Service, in collaboration with the U.S. Census Bureau and the nonprofit coalition Independent Sector, conducted the first major federal survey of volunteering by teenagers in more than a decade. The survey collected information on the volunteering habits of youth between the ages of 12 and 18. Some key findings included:

An estimated 15.5 million youth – or 55 percent of youth ages 12 to 18 – participate in volunteer activities; the teen volunteering rate is nearly twice the adult volunteering rate of 29 percent.

Youth contribute more than 1.3 billion hours of community service each year.

Students who report doing better in school are more likely to be volunteers than students who report doing less well, and are also more likely to have been involved in community service as part of a school activity.

A youth from a family where at least one parent volunteers is almost twice as likely to volunteer as a youth with no family members who volunteer – and nearly three times as likely to volunteer on a regular basis.

Among youth who are in families where both parents and siblings volunteer, 86 percent volunteer themselves, and 47 percent are regular volunteers. Only 14 percent do not volunteer themselves.

What do these findings tell us? For some families, giving back to others is a way of life, and is clearly something parents can model for children.

Communities that care create people who care

South Glens Falls, NY is a small town located about an hour north of Albany with a population of approximately 3,560. Students at South Glens Falls High School, grades 9-12, gather each March for the South High Marathon Dance (SHMD) to raise money and dance for 28 hours straight, all to benefit local people and charities who need help.

When the event began in 1978, 50 dancers raised $1,500, which they donated to a local emergency squad. Fast forward 40 years, and more than 750 dancers raised $823,614 in 2017. In total, more than $6.4 million has benefitted 408 causes and individuals in need, all within their own community.


I have a friend who lives in South Glens Falls and she can’t say enough about how this single event has changed the culture within the town and has brought the entire community together.

“The teachers, community, business, students and parents live and breathe SHMD. The day after the marathon, they begin planning for the following year. It’s giving back and paying it forward that sticks with you your entire life. The kids are totally into it. All the money stays to help local families. I have chills thinking about it,” said Diana Franzoni, parent and community member. Her son served as the marathon co-chair in 2016.

“At the finale, the recipients speak and there isn’t a dry eye in the gym. It’s teamwork. It’s family. It’s helping others,” added Franzoni.

Why volunteer?

Not every community has a single rallying event, but individuals in school districts throughout New York are making a difference in their own way. There are students running food pantries, putting together backpacks of school supplies, providing prom dresses, and so much more, all to benefit people in their communities.

Dana Taylor, a speech therapist and innovation coordinator at Monticello Central School District in Sullivan County, NY, emphasizes the importance of teens getting involved in their communities. “When students get involved in something bigger than themselves, it allows them to see that they are a speck in the garden of life. They are doing something productive and very powerful,” said Taylor.

In addition, Taylor says that volunteering also helps strengthen college and scholarship applications.

When students are engaged in this feel-good community service projects, the experiences may be transformational and provide students with genuine stories to write about in their applications for colleges and scholarships; stories that invoke emotion and touch people’s hearts.

Taylor’s daughters, one who will be starting her freshman year in the fall and the other an incoming senior – have a community service headline on their resumes that outlines volunteer work they’ve done, showing they are well rounded and involved.

“In my eyes, being a good human being automatically means giving back in some aspect to your community,” said Taylor.

Carole Spendley  is a public information specialist for Capital Region BOCES. She lives in Orange County and is the mother of four high school/college age children.

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