By Jonna Kuskey, English Teacher
This column recently appeared in the Wheeling Intelligencer
Recently, as the co-advisor of the John Marshall High School Justice Chapter of the National Honor Society, I updated our organization’s service activity log and decided Santa’s elves have nothing on these students. Since July, John Marshall’s honor society members have volunteered more than 500 hours at 28 community events. They have worked on behalf of the City of Moundsville, the Salvation Army, and the Family Resource Network. They have helped fellow students in need, West Virginia flood victims, and area veterans. They have read to elementary school children, collected money for childhood cancer research, and wrapped Christmas presents. Most of these student volunteers are involved in sports and other extracurricular activities. Some also have part-time jobs. Still, they find time to give back to their community.
With the holiday season upon us, I would like to take a moment to thank all those teens across the valley who have given their time to help others, and I encourage those who haven’t to resolve in 2017 to spend some time in service to the community.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” During adolescence, teens are trying to decide who they are and what kind of people they will become, and volunteering can help them do just that. Time spent volunteering not only benefits those being helped, it also benefits the person doing the helping.
Studies have shown that volunteering can increase our self-esteem, reduce stress and lessen the symptoms of depression and anxiety. It does our hearts and minds good when we do good for others. In school, I see and hear students stressing over homework and tests. At community events, however, I see and hear them having fun with their friends and people they just met. For a few short hours, they forget about their own struggles, forget about the essays they need to write and the calculations they need to solve. For a few short hours, they transcend the daily strife and feed their souls and the souls of those they touch. They are better for having spent the time serving others.
In addition to the health benefits, performing community service helps students gain valuable social, communication, and work skills. Volunteering teaches students to meet and work with a variety of people to accomplish a common goal. It teaches them to put the needs of others above the needs of themselves, to appreciate their community and care for its members. It teaches them “to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition” to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson.
In the long run, students may benefit financially from volunteering. Today, many colleges, scholarships, and internships give more consideration to candidates who perform community service.
So parents, encourage your teenager to become involved in serving the community. The best place to start is with your child’s school. Most area high schools have honor societies that actively seek volunteer opportunities in the community. Lots of other high school clubs and associations have opportunities to become involved such as the Youth Leadership Association, Future Business Leaders of America, and the Leo Club. Call your school to find out what organizations participate in community service, and talk to your child about the benefits of volunteering.
And to those of you in charge of worthwhile charitable organizations in our community, please consider soliciting help from your local high school clubs. Located within the walls of our schools are talented, compassionate teenagers who would greatly benefit from helping you with your good works, and your organization will benefit, too. You won’t regret it.
Ultimately, volunteering enriches our youth which enriches our community. Being the NHS adviser has allowed me to experience firsthand the love, optimism, and hope that our teens have for our community. From my perspective, the future is in good hands.