Should You Have to Do Community Service?

Some schools require students to volunteer. But is community service still worthwhile if teens are forced to take part?

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For Many Americans, the holiday season is the perfect time to volunteer. Some people prepare or serve Thanksgiving meals at soup kitchens. Some take part in turkey trot races and other kinds of fund-raisers for charity, or collect and donate winter coats for homeless people.

But for many students, community service isn’t just a holiday activity. An increasing number of middle and high schools now require students to serve a certain number of volunteer hours before they can graduate. And some parents insist that their kids do volunteer work year-round—even if it’s not mandatory at school.

Why all the emphasis on getting teens to give back? Volunteering can have important benefits, such as learning new skills, building compassion, and becoming a more responsible citizen. Some people, though, say those advantages are lost when students are forced to volunteer. Also, many teens don’t have the time.

Too Much Like a Chore?

While most people agree that it’s important for students to volunteer, many teens already have huge demands on their schedules, including homework and after-school programs. Critics of mandatory community service say that many students feel over­whelmed when other activities are added to their plates—and may even resent having to volunteer.

“Adding community service to teens’ already crowded schedules is the wrong way to go,” says Ellison O’Grady, 15, a student from Bay Head, New Jersey. “It makes something as important and rewarding as volunteering feel like a chore.”

Some kids are already too busy with sports and clubs to volunteer during the school year.

Other people say many of the benefits of community service come from actually volunteering—that is, participating by choice. If your school or your parents require you to do something, it’s not really voluntary, they note.

Ellison thinks schools should shift their focus. “Instead of forcing students to volunteer,” she says, “schools should create more opportunities for them to serve. The more exciting and diverse the options are, the greater the chance that many students will sign up for them.”

Making an Impact

Teens who volunteer tend to do better in school and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors, studies show. They also gain social skills and work experience that can pay off later in life, when they’re looking for jobs.

Still, given a choice, many busy teens would simply skip it. That’s why requiring community service is important, supporters say.

As a high school student in New York, Bellamy Richardson, now 18, had to do 75 hours of community service before graduation. At first, she was worried: How could she ever find that much time?

Teens who take part in community service learn new skills and compassion for others.

But, she says, “I joined other teens from my synagogue to make sandwiches and ‘life-packs’ filled with daily necessities. Once a month, we delivered them to homeless shelters and sometimes directly to people living on the streets.”

To Bellamy’s surprise, she not only met the service requirement sooner than she’d expected, she also learned a lot, strengthened friendships—and found that she loved volunteering.

“I discovered a new passion for social justice,” she says. “I will never forget the personal impact we made on people.”

Bellamy is now glad that her service wasn’t optional. “Requiring community service would give other people the opportunity I had.”

Think It Over

Should community service be required or some­thing students do only by choice? Consider whether you would volunteer if it weren’t mandatory. Then ask yourself: Could the benefits of volunteering make it worthwhile no matter how teens end up getting involved?

Write About It! Write an essay explaining whether you think community service should be mandatory or voluntary. Support your claim with reasons and evidence from this article and your own experiences.

Lightspring/ (Basketball); Dora Zett/ (Cat); Chekameeva Vera/ (Spaghetti)

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