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Opening doors through community service

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In addition to whatever you have planned for the summer months, don’t forget to leave quality time for volunteer activities or projects. Incorporating community service into your life is incredibly rewarding and almost always habit-forming. In fact, it often opens doors for life.

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As you consider volunteer options, look for opportunities that fit you—your interests and skills. You don’t have to travel across the world—think local.

And the time commitment is entirely up to you. You can be deeply involved in a one-time event or you can sign-up for a couple of hours each week. It really doesn’t matter.

Yes, community service pays off in many different ways. By sharing your time and talent with others, you most certainly will:

  • Do some good. Volunteers have the opportunity to make a difference—change lives, support a cause, or improve the world around us.
  • Discover a passion. Figuring out what you really love to do and channeling it into something productive is the surest road to happiness. And what better way is there to discover passion than through service to others?
  • Test-drive careers. If you’re thinking about medicine, teaching, or even large animal husbandry, volunteer in a clinic, a school or on a farm. Community service provides hands-on experience and opportunities to explore different career paths.
  • Polish job-readiness skills. Being dependable, on time, and responsible not only makes you a great volunteer but also prepares you for entering the world of work. In addition, you can develop communication, organization, and invaluable “people” skills, all of which make you incredibly employable.
  • Expand your network. Volunteering is a great way to make new friends and build solid connections to businesses, schools, or other community-based organizations. These are the kinds of relationships that tend to grow and blossom, particularly if you find yourself working in a team or supporting a cause.
  • Get a recommendation: A byproduct of the volunteer experience can be a strong personal recommendation for college, scholarships, or future employment. While teachers and guidance counselors can speak of academic and school-based accomplishments, your best character references will come from among supervisors and co-workers in organizations to which you contributed volunteer hours.
  • Challenge your comfort zone. If life as a high school student has become a little boring and predictable, try volunteering in a totally unfamiliar part of your community or serving a population with which you don’t ordinarily interact. Expose yourself to new ideas, challenges and situations that will help you grow as a person.
  • Enhance scholarship potential. Although service to others should be its own reward, there’s no question that colleges, foundations, and businesses are willing to acknowledge service by awarding very generous scholarships. Winners of these kinds of honors typically begin early and dedicate significant hours throughout high school.
  • Build leadership skills. As a volunteer, you may be presented with opportunities to build supervisory, management, or decision-making skills as a team leader or project organizer. These are talents that colleges, scholarship organizations, and employers value highly.
  • Upgrade college portfolio. Colleges want to see that you’ve done something more with your summer than texting or posting pictures on Instagram. Community service provides strong evidence of character, commitment, and motivation—all of which are pluses in college admissions.
  • Discover an essay. The best college essays flow from personal experience. In fact, essay questions often ask about significant achievements, events, or people—all of which may be found in the act of volunteering.
  • Learn something. You learn by doing. And if you’re lucky, you may even be offered specific skills training you can take with you long after the event or project is completed.
  • Do some good. This cannot be overstated.

In her commencement address at Dillard University in New Orleans, First Lady Michelle Obama reminded the Class of 2014 that “…you can start small. Start by volunteering at an after-school program…Or you can think a little bigger—you can get your entire congregation or your community to start a mentoring program…”

And at Antioch University New England, acting Peace Corps director Carrie Hessler-Radelet encouraged graduates to “…pursue a life of service because it will challenge you, teach you, and open your eyes in ways unlike any other experience. It will open doors of opportunity that might be impossible to imagine right now.”

So get involved. You really will make a difference!

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