Community service: Too much of a good thing?

Remember the days when community service was a punishment or a requirement of probation? These days, community service is a way of life for high schoolers, especially those who are college-bound.

Connor Brown is a senior at Hannibal High School . He'll log maybe 100 hours of community service this school year. Some of it is required by student groups, like the National Honor Society. He must do 50 hours as part of his participation in the A+ program , which gives him a big break on college tuition. But Connor doesn't mind all the time he puts in giving back to the community. He especially enjoys his work with the handicapped.

"I love it. It's great," Connor says of his time working with Special Olympians. "It kind of puts you in your place. If they can be happy with the challenges they have, who are you to complain? It helps me be the person I need to be."

The trend of high schoolers working required community service hours has really ratcheted up in recent years. Jenny Benson is a guidance counselor at Hannibal High. She works with throngs of students squeezing in hours for groups like Key Club, religious confirmation class, scholarship requirements or just simply to get a leg up on the competition. "Most colleges aren't necessarily requiring it, but these kids know it looks good on an application."

Benson says the added responsibility puts much more stress on these students than in the past. That's what worries Rita Brown, whose daughter is a junior at Hannibal High. "I know the kids are getting a lot out of community service and that's great. But when you look at all the other things on their plate--academics, sports, work and all that--when do they get any free time? Where's the family time? I don't know how these kids are supposed to do it all."

A check of message boards on this subject turns up a number of complaints about required volunteerism. The term in itself is an oxymoron. Some parents say forcing kids to volunteer does not necessarily promote volunteerism when they graduate. Others claim it's an intrusion of a child's private life. Connor has heard grumbles from some kids about it, but he thinks it's all a matter of perspective.

"You have to understand the big picture," he told me. "Someone else is going to benefit from the time you're giving. It's good to know you're playing a part to make things better."

Benson agrees. "I think it helps instill a sense of community-mindedness. The kids who are a part of service tend to be more global-oriented instead of self-oriented."

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Take care ~Sarah D.