The third Wednesday night of every month during my elementary school years involved two loaves of Pepperidge Farm bread, a jar of Jif peanut butter, a jar of Smucker’s strawberry jelly and a roll of aluminum foil. My family and I would make as many PB&J sandwiches as we could and donate them to the Martha’s Table organization, which helps provide food and clothing to people in the Washington, D.C., area. This was my first community service project.
My community service habit continued because I was required to complete 60 hours in order to graduate high school. The top of every student’s report card had a section dedicated to logging his or her hours and detailed the hours required, hours earned and hours remaining. Here on campus, much of my time is consumed with library visits and fulfilling my distribution requirements, and it seems I have little time (or, more correctly, I am not readily inclined to make the time) to give back to the Ann Arbor community. But who’s to say community service can’t be a distribution requirement category of its own? Think credit hours. The University should make community service hours a graduation requirement to motivate students to get involved and hopefully stay involved as a result.
I came into this university as an LSA freshman knowing I would have to fulfill certain distribution requirements. Despite the fact that I can hardly perform simple multiplication in my head, I am currently enrolled in Stats 350 to fulfill my quantitative reasoning requirement. Like it or not, fulfilling these requirements forced me to balance all aspects of my studies — something I wouldn’t have done had it not been mandatory to do so. Just think what students could learn if a community service requirement was added to the equation.
With around 25,000 undergrads, a requirement of a mere four hours prior to graduation would result in over 100,000 hours contributed per graduating class. Even the overachiever of overachievers could spare a few hours a year to help someone less fortunate — and what better place to do so than our beloved A-squared community? With elementary schools located very near campus and a world-renowned hospital nearby, motivated students — with a little push — could make a huge difference. Ann Arbor is a prime community for students to find their community service niches.
The University community prides itself on its dedication to community service, and while many students already volunteer, some of us could use the additional incentive. For example, a friend of mine asked me to drive her to the Food Gatherers organization a few weeks ago. I was impressed with her and disappointed in myself for not taking the same initiative. But my conscience was soon put to ease when I learned she had to do service for her Econ 108 class.
I’m sure people are wondering what’s so great about her work if she’s being forced to do it. But whether her work is required or not, people are being helped by her efforts. Also, there are many well-intentioned students (I like to put myself in this category) who have elaborate agendas in which community service — though a nagging thought — isn’t a priority. But after being pushed to complete service hours, many people have rewarding experiences and consequently develop a life-long dedication to service. There’s no beating that.
Feeling the need to give myself that extra push, I took it upon myself to do some research. I would bet my cherished Ohio State vs. Michigan football ticket that few students have come across the insanely useful University of Michigan Community Relations website. This website has a section dedicated to community service that lists different organizations and how to get involved. Looking at this website, I was like a kid in a candy shop on a service high. There’s a plethora of great organizations just craving student involvement.
But the University can provide even more. I can see it now: A tab on CTools with the words “Service 101” between biology and English classes. For those of you who didn’t have a service requirement in high school, the monitoring of hours is really quite simple. When a student completes hours, he or she fills out a form to submit to an adviser and — tada — hours completed!
It’s shame that so many students miss out on the opportunity to complete these often life-changing hours because they’re too busy socializing, fulfilling other requirements or twiddling their service-able thumbs. Community service should become a requirement of its own to avoid this loss of opportunity. Argue all you want about the unfeasibility of my proposition — but when push comes to shove, if students can fulfill distribution requirements taking dance classes, they should be able to get credit from making PB&Js.
Leah Potkin can be reached at email@example.com.