I only have about a month and a half until I graduate from college. One of the unique characteristics of the university that I attend is that they require all of their students to complete a certain number of service hours (80) in order for them to graduate. The goal of this requirement is to promote service learning and inspire students to become community-minded citizens. Many people on campus tend to be reluctant to comply with this requirement and are substantially annoyed by it. I have to admit, I am not a huge fan of being “forced” to do anything. I want to want to do something.
The ironic thing about my feelings is that the more I avoid service because of the annoyance connected to the requirement, the less service I actually do. However, when I actually do serve, I find myself enjoying it and longing do serve more. For example, last week I served at a local organization called YCAP. This is an aftercare program associated with the YMCA. This is an organization with whom I have served before. During my time there last week I got to lay the foundation for relationships with real kids who need real relationships with people that actually care about them.
Some of the kids can be a bit rough. They tend to spout off rude/condescending remarks and talk about things that are altogether inappropriate. For the most part, they build up walls that distance themselves from people that they do not know well. (This isn’t all that different from the majority of people) I actually found relationship development in this setting to be intriguing and motivating. If I could show the kids that I had tough enough skin, they would open up to me a little and respect me.
The best part of it all was seeing the kids actually enjoying themselves as they developed relationships and had fun with one another. Through the YCAP program, with the help of student tutors, these kids are learning to be responsible, maintain self-control, and enjoy symbiotic relationships. The cool thing about this program is how they handle disruption. Part of the reason these kids are struggling so much is because of a lack of effective authority. I appreciate how much the leaders in YCAP understand the needs of these kids. They do not harshly punish bad behavior and they do not over-reward good behavior. They acknowledge the children’s potential to act responsibly and they allow them to “have a good time.” For example, when we went outside one day the kids were asked to water the garden that they had planted. Naturally, young kids with a water hose will want to do silly things with the water hose. Instead of preventing them from spraying each other with the water, they let the kids have a little fun while also maintaing order and achieving the overall goal. They let the kids be kids and they gave them the opportunity to complete a realistic and productive goal.
Service can be done in many ways… even in ways that don’t directly connect you with people. Overall, it is a very fulfilling experience, especially if you see the work done bring about change in someone’s life. Typically, the more you serve, the more fun it gets and the easier it becomes. I have to say, last week was a very difficult week for me. I had papers and tests and due dates and lots of other un-fun things to do before the weekend. To top it all off, I was running low on money which always makes matters more uncomfortable. Despite all this, serving at YCAP was by far the most enjoyable part of my week. It inspired me, it motivated me to keep going, and it energized me to make it through the week. I just hope that my service there did some of the same things for the kids that I was blessed to share life with.