NY Times July 30, 2010
The Benefits of Volunteerism, if the Service Is Real
By ALINA TUGEND
WHEN I was growing up, I don’t remember hearing much about community service. My
parents were certainly civic-minded, but they were a lot more concerned about the work I
did around the house. Like cleaning bathrooms and weeding the lawn.
Nowadays, some sort of volunteerism is a given in many places. Through schools,
churches, synagogues, Girl and
and countless other organizations, children
and teenagers are expected to do something, whether it be fund-raising for charities,
working at soup kitchens or assisting at animal shelters.
In the most positive light, such service teaches children and teenagers to look beyond
themselves and understand the role they can play in their community and country. In the
most negative light, it is one more activity to tick off en route to college.
“There is some cynicism among people that some portion of community service is
prompted by students interested more in résumé-building,” said Richard G. Niemi,
professor of political science at the
University of Rochester
But does it really matter why it’s done? Isn’t it enough to volunteer, no matter the
Well, yes and no. Studies have shown that generally, community service for whatever
reason is a good thing. But how it’s done and whether it also involves service learning —
that is, lessons that discuss homelessness, say, or hunger in a larger context — make a
Joseph E. Kahne, a professor of education at Mills College, and his colleagues just
completed a survey of more than 500 teenagers in the 11th and 12th grades from a
diverse set of 19 high schools in California. The researchers followed the students for up
to three years after graduation.
The students who were engaged in some sort of community service in high school —
whether mandatory or voluntary — were more likely to volunteer or be involved in some