Finding fulfillment in varied community service

Sarah Yaacoub

Editor’s note: This is a personal essay by Sarah Yaacoub.

Last year, nearly 63 million Americans, or about a quarter of the nation, did community service, volunteering for local nonprofits and initiatives to better the world around them, according to the United States Census Bureau.  

Some of them did it out of idealism, hoping to change the world, while others had a passion for what they were doing and a specialized skill set to offer.  Many more, though, did it out of duty: service hours are often a requirement for joining organizations, applying for awards and even graduating high school.  Community service can also replace all or part of a jail sentence as punishment for less heinous offenses.

It makes sense that so many organizations require service of their members. Working without compensation teaches selflessness and work ethic and it can be a great introduction to a field of work.  It allows even untrained people to gain real life experience in areas that interest them, and it’s a morally fulfilling activity, even if performed by mandate of court or other higher council.

I’ve done both mandatory and voluntary community service, and both gave me the same sense of satisfaction and the same level of work experience. In both situations, I donated my time to help however I was able, which is what really counts when it comes to volunteering.  Many nonprofits just need an extra set of hands to contribute to the work that needs to be done, and motive is irrelevant. 

My community service experience is wide and varied — I’ve volunteered as a summer camp counselor, as a tutor, as an office assistant, and most recently, as a reporter.  Most of the time, I truly enjoy the work I’m doing, which makes it easy to engage with each activity. Whether I’m doing it for hours or for personal enjoyment, I’ve found that picking a project you’re passionate about makes the hours fly by faster and the work seem less like drudgery.  It’s generally not a good idea to volunteer to do something you don’t find interesting, purely to accumulate service hours, just as it’s not a good idea to join a club simply because it looks good on a resume. Both would be acceptable reasons if combined with actual interest in the activity, but alone, they offer little motivation for commitment.

In short, community service is beneficial, whether assigned or voluntary.  The important thing is finding something you love to do and using it to help others, and volunteer work is great for everyone, regardless of the ulterior motives held.

Features reporter Sarah Yaacoub can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahYaacoub1.