Well, to be very candid, often it doesn’t. If a child is merely meeting a school-imposed community service hour minimum or just dabbling (three hours serving in a soup kitchen, two hours at an animal shelter . . .) then community service doesn’t mean much at all. A little here and a little there doesn’t help the community, doesn’t impress a college, and doesn’t help our child grow.
I am often asked how many hours of volunteer service a child needs to get into a good college. But this really isn’t a quantitative measurement. It is qualitative. Trust me. Colleges see through a student who is just trying to compile hours in order to check off the box. This type of “service” is essentially meaningless. Qualitative service also speaks volumes about a student, but in a positive way. Sustained commitment over months or years shows us what actually matters to the student. They are believable in their applications when they claim to care about their work with disadvantaged youth.
An interesting dynamic happens when a child or teen invests significant time to a specific service opportunity. When they hang around long enough to see the result of their time investment, their interest is often intensified. They can contribute enough to make a difference. There are more chances for leadership and/or innovation. Their perceptions change. They get involved with the story and find themselves suddenly swept up in something bigger than themselves. They become motivated, their vision is expanded, and they come away a different person, a bigger person than they were before. And that is when community service matters.
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