The irony of required volunteering

Reanna Comiso, Features Editor

Volunteering has become the gold star to place on your resume and college applications. It shows you are a well-rounded, caring individual, sure to make you stick out to college admission counselors and job recruitment agents. Now more than ever, volunteering is done less out of selflessness and more in hope of gaining a reward, such as getting admitted into your top college or landing your dream job. Has volunteering lost its meaning?

I do not spend enough time giving back to my community. I have the opportunity and privilege to give back to those in need. But like many other students my age, I grew up being required to volunteer. And, in a way, it left a bad impression of what volunteering means.

From working food drives to planting trees in my community, I have done my fair share of volunteering. Though, I cannot say it was out of my own free-will. I spent time volunteering because I had to. I grew up in a Catholic household and spent my childhood years undergoing religious education. In order to “graduate” religious education, I had to make my confirmation. And in order to make my confirmation, I had to complete a mandatory 20 hours of community service.

I enjoyed my time volunteering, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel like a chore. Instead of doing it because I wanted to, I did it because I had to. If I didn’t, I would be punished and “exiled” from my community. I would be judged by my peers and teachers for not completing my volunteer hours. I had no choice.

Many students preparing to apply for colleges have plenty of volunteer hours under their belts, purposefully to make their college applications better, or because they were required to complete volunteer hours. For example, students join service-based groups like the National Honor Society for application merit. One of the big requirements of being initiated into NHS is completing mandatory service hours.

Many students note that completing the mandatory volunteer hours was nothing more than a chore. Rather than being excited to give back to the community, it became something to dread.

“I was required to do volunteer hours for NHS, and I hated it,” said Ahnnabella Kolacki, a student at Valparaiso University, one of the local universities that prides itself on being a service-based school.  “It definitely made volunteering feel like something I had to do rather than something I wanted to do.”

Alex Bacon, another local student from the University of Illinois, cites only completing service hours because it was a requirement for NHS.

“It seems like the majority of people do it just for the hours, not for the act of helping,” said Bacon. “Usually I was just doing it for hours as well. So in a sense, I would [say] that it kind of defeats the purpose of service work.”

The modern college climate requires students to put their best foot forward and then some. Instead of just putting in effort to get average-to-good grades, students feel they need to partake in various honor societies and extracurriculars to impress colleges. With some of the most competitive schools in the country residing in the Chicagoland area, like the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, students looking to get into the best of the best schools need to do more than ever before to increase their chances of admission. Upon getting into their school of choice, students often stop volunteering.

It is not until students get involved in a particular organization they enjoy that volunteering doesn’t end up feeling like a total burden. Initially, required volunteer hours give volunteering a bad rep. When students have access to causes they believe in, they are more likely to feel excited about the work they are doing.

Janine Bussler is a COD student who has a passion for giving back to children with cancer. Love Your Melon is a company that produces hats and clothing and donates half of all proceeds to nonprofit partners to benefit children suffering from pediatric cancer. Bussler is the captain of the COD Love Your Melon Crew, an organization that visits child oncology units, volunteering at Make-A-Wish events and takes part in other opportunities to help children with cancer.

“I got involved with Love Your Melon because at the age of 10 I was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease and chronic kidney disease, which meant I was going to need several kidney transplants over my life,” said Bussler. “I was exposed to all the hardships that a life-threatening illness has at a very young age, just like the kids that we do all our work for.”

Bussler found a group she believed in and turned it into a passion for service and helping children in need.

Kolacki also notes that attending a college that encourages volunteering rather than requiring it has helped her develop a passion for community service.

“My school encourages a lot of volunteering,” said Kolacki.  “We get two weeks off for spring break because they stress attending a service trip for the first week. I didn’t think I would ever volunteer this much.”

Despite poor experiences with required volunteering in the past, students have been able to move past the poor image of volunteering they once had to give it a new meaning. Volunteering at all is never a bad idea, even if required. But don’t let required volunteer hours hold you back from uncovering the gratification that comes with giving back.