Service hours should reflect effort

The Oracle

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By Anna Qin:

Graphics by Alvina Yau:

It is clearly impressive when students are willing to dedicate themselves to making a difference in the lives of less privileged people. However, due to the perceived importance of service to college admissions, many students have begun to rely on making “hour” purchases or applying simple hour “multipliers” in order to gain the recognition associated with service. Not only does this sacrifice the intent and purpose of community service, but the recognition earned will not be effective in achieving the results students want.

For example, students who purchase toys for the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation are rewarded hours based on toys donated to the organization. Every five dollars spent on a toy translates to half an hour of service. A student could “purchase” all 15 hours required to fulfill graduation requirements and possibly beyond.

While it may be debated that donating money is just as valuable as donating time, it is inherently incorrect to apply a monetary value to service. The impact of half an hour of service is significantly different from spending five dollars on a toy. Students are essentially using money from home or a job to earn recognition for doing “service” for the community.  Furthermore, it is likely that encouragement of these practices will lead to a contest of wealth, where recognition is based on how much money one can spend on service rather than dedication to community.

Multipliers applied onto hours authorized by many service organizations similarly undermine the concept of volunteering and the recognition with which it is associated. One of Key Club’s most popular events during the year is Fast for Awareness, in which students stay at school for 24 hours and fast in order to raise awareness for global malnutrition. For attending the event, students are rewarded two times the amount of hours they actually serve. While raising awareness for a globally recognized problem such as world hunger is important, assuming that each student will have double the impact of what he has committed is undeniably wrong.

Ultimately, many students do this in order to impress the college admissions officers standing between them and their dream college.  However, research by sources such as Forbes, Huffington Post and US News indicates that colleges pay little attention to the hours recorded and much more to the  quality of service. An application supplemented with hours gained by purchasing toys and applying multipliers will show a student’s lack of dedication and ambition. This result is clearly undesirable and thus would not be valuable to pursue.

Service should be done under the context of improving the community. Whether it is buying hours or inflating the hours recorded, both acts are unquestionably wrong as they undermine the impact of service to society. Organizations and teachers alike should discourage further application of these practices, and students should pursue more worthwhile and honest acts of service that will benefit the community.