Selling Community Service

Twenty hour car rides allow for a wide range of conversations. It was during the moments when I wasn’t napping or being told in grueling detail about how much better Southern fast food is that I heard something remarkably disheartening. From someone I believe to be a person who cares about the community and helping others, I was told that if a person wanted to make a difference they wouldn’t go through SERV.

Isn’t that what SERV is supposed to do? The acronym of the organization is to support, encourage, and recognize volunteerism. Aspiring volunteers should find an open board which can give aid and support to these community well-wishers. When I mention that I’m doing an educational project with SERV, I earn a snort of derision from many people. When I was searching for people to run for the board, I received an uncomfortable silence and awkward excuses for why they absolutely could not do SERV. Shouting at people during lunches often results in people coming up to chat but avoiding signing up for events. The question I am left with is, where did it all break down?

I am told that only a few short years ago, SERV was a major organization with a large percentage of student involvement. Now, the board feels lucky if anyone other than a board member attends events. The board members changed the layout of many service events in an attempt to entice the student body to go to many of our events. Why is it necessary to cajole our student body into helping others? I remember well on my tour of Olin, as a visiting high school junior, that my tour guide stressed how much community service meant to Oliners. We are supposed to have a go get em’ nature, passionate builders of our community. Even after we leave Olin, these qualities are a part of the plethora of ideals that our institution is attempting to nurture.

Perhaps I am a little too harsh. I went to a high school where we had required service hours as part of our graduation. Every Thursday classes were shortened and at 1:30 school let out so that we all went off into the world taking our name and goodwill into the community. This spirit was a central part of who I defined myself as in my adolescence. As a first-year, I walked onto this campus believing that mindset existed here as well. Friday service time here, which I had believed similar to my previous years of Thursday service, has so far been a letdown.

I sincerely hope that the reasons for people not becoming involved in SERV projects this year is due to either the fact that people are involved in other community service organizations like eDisco or Relay, or that people do not believe SERV to be an able organization. The alternative is just too depressing to ponder.

So we get back around to it, where is there a break? Is the current scale of SERV’s projects the problem? Do you believe that another organization does a better job? Or do you believe that community service is not an integral part of your college education? SERV recognizes that there is a problem. As an individual who feels strongly about community service, I hope the rift can close so that all of us may have the opportunity to do service.

Join SERV’s discussion about community service at Olin and the use of Friday Service time tomorrow morning in the dining hall as part of Build Day. SERV will be working with community members from 9-11am and 1:30-3:30pm.