Should young people be required to do service work?

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The Big Event is a volunteer event for UD Students happening this fall. Photo by Emily Ashman

In today’s society, it seems as if we’re constantly bombarded with messages telling us to think for ourselves and to care for ourselves before others, perhaps most clear in the “self care” movement that has taken over corners of the internet. While it’s important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and mental health, today’s society underestimates the value in serving others before ourselves. 

Among the community of UD, I’ve found myself pushed to consider the ways we can serve others and to wonder: are young people doing enough of it?

Recently, I checked my Instagram feed and saw a post from a Mormon friend who had been sent to the Czech Republic on a mission. However, while she is off volunteering and serving others, she seems to be the exception to college-aged students, rather than the rule. 

While some organizations, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, expect young people to embark on mission trips, society as a whole does not place overt emphasis on community service work, and instead seems to be veering in the opposite direction. Only about 4% of the population between ages 15 and 24 volunteer on an average day, according to a study done by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015. 

Although there are organizations such as NET Ministries and Regnum Christi that offer service-focused gap years for students, college-aged students are spending less time volunteering than any other age group.

Although the majority of American college students are not choosing to take gap years or volunteering on a daily basis, the accounts from those that do are overwhelmingly positive. In a survey taken by the American Gap Association in 2015, 98% of students that chose to pursue service years prior to college found themselves satisfied with their decision and their personal development as a result. 

Students who chose to take gap years have described their experiences as leaving them more confident, better at communication, and more understanding of others. 

Rather than transitioning students straight from high school into college, a transition that can be both jarring and isolating, students that choose to spend time volunteering are able to develop a deeper sense of empathy. 

For students that choose to take gap years dedicated to service work, or those that engage more robustly in volunteering during college, this could ease the transition between high school and college. 

In going from a stage in life where young people tend to be focused mostly on themselves, volunteer work presents possibilities for students to learn more about themselves and others in a conducive environment. 

Many colleges already offer benefits for students choosing to take a gap year, whether by allowing them to defer admission, providing financial aid awards, or even by sponsoring programs for students that wish to serve communities around the world. The integration of programs such as these into more colleges would allow more students the opportunity to engage in service work before or while attending college.

For smaller schools unable to sponsor such programs, they could establish classes for students that consist of volunteer opportunities rather than coursework, activities such as tutoring, physical labor assistance or general organizational work that could occur either several times a week or be assigned one specific day, similar to the function of science labs. 

On campus and local volunteer opportunities during the summer could exist for those that still wish to enter college directly after high school. Volunteer opportunities would provide young people with valuable experiences, while they could still attend college in a timely manner. 

Service work continues to engender virtues in students that choose to volunteer throughout college, equipping them with skills that can accompany them through their college life and beyond.

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