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In My Opinion:

What Community Service Can Lead To

By Teen Editorial Board Member, Kathy Chang

March 1999

This article isn't about "How community service made me a better person." It's also not about "How good it feels to make a difference." I wrote this piece just to say how doing community service made me realize that friends can be made anywhere and everywhere.

We were studying Marxism, and my history teacher said the following: "We all dress, act, and look a certain way to reflect our class and distinguish ourselves from the classes below us. In fact, I'd guess that the only time you members of an affluent bourgeoisie (business) class interact with the 'lower classes' is when you do community service."

Ouch! Was that really true? Unfortunately, the more I thought about, the more it seemed to be.

When I was little and visited a city my mom would tell me to stay away from the drunkards on the street. Now, although I try to keep an open mind and often donate money, I still somewhat cringe when I see "homeless" types. We all know the feeling. Perhaps that's the problem. We think of it as "donating" rather than perhaps "sharing." That concept will obviously be hard to change.

"We all dress, act, and look a certain way to reflect our class and distinguish ourselves from the classes below us. In fact, I'd guess that the only time you members of the affluent bourgeoisie (business) class interact with the 'lower classes' is when you do community service."

Do we dress well and act the way we do to show that we are "better?" I would certainly hope not! I know that most people do not consciously do so. But maybe we do. Some people do consciously distance themselves from "them," wrinkling their noses in distaste at the "poor" people. Because we're usually hang around with people of our own class, none of the people I'm close to (including myself) has a single friend who lives below the poverty line. At least, none of us had before we started doing community service.

We all, consciously or unconsciously, associate us with people who are like us. Look around your school. The sporty people hang with each other, the academic ones and Goths are distinctly separate. It's not necessarily a conscious choice. The sporty people are probably on teams with each other. The academics have their in honors classes together. It works the same way in the adult world. The affluent mix with the affluent at corporate parties and private clubs. The middle class mixes with the middle class in the suburbs. We know the people who are around us and we are comfortable with what we know.

...a paradigm shift happens once we are actually immersed in the larger society which includes the world of the "less affluent" or "less lucky."

But a paradigm shift happens once we are actually immersed in the larger society which includes the world of the "less affluent" or "less lucky." I'm not talking about going to a hospital and folding towels for a few hours, or wrapping presents for the children there, (although both are worthy endeavors.) I'm talking about an ongoing commitment like:

  • adopting a person at a hospital and visiting them for an hour a week
  • tutoring at a school for the blind
  • cleaning up in a homeless shelter

Do something like this and you find yourself caring for someone you probably never would have met. Someone who becomes your friend while you become theirs. Your eyes are opened to another world, one that we are in by choice, not by the mere chance of having been born into a certain family with privileged circumstances.

Through community service I've met brilliant people who are forced to work instead of go to school. In a recent trip to a hospital, I met a kind and loving 17 year old cancer patient. Because of his illness he wasn't able to go to school past the 2nd grade. I've learned to appreciate and genuinely feel warmth and love for the people I've worked with. The cringing is gone and thus the divisions are falling.

I've learned to appreciate and genuinely feel
warmth and love for the people I've worked with.
The cringing is gone and thus the divisions are falling.

It's too ideal to say that our generation can make a classless society, but we can certainly put the building blocks in. One way to accomplish this is to do community service genuinely. It's not the same if you're motivated by wanting to have something that "looks good" on your college application or something self-serving like that. You have to be motivated by a general desire to make people's lives a little brighter. By doing this, you can make your own life, and the life of our generation, brighter as well.


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