Colleges love applicants who are active: those who play sports, make music, lead clubs, and especially those who do good by serving others. But "community service" has come to be interpreted in ways that threaten the definition. A popular quickie community service begins with parents writing a check for a few thousand dollars to an American firm which arranges a two-week Central or South American trip. The student flies to an exotic village, joining other privileged American teens to lay bricks for a poor community far from home, emerging with a few new words in a foreign language and a sense of personal accomplishment – without having done much for the community in question. It's quite convenient and great fodder for the college application essay, but college admissions officers will not be impressed unless this service is part of a pattern of real commitment.
It's hard for students to find time and summon the creativity to effect true commitment. But there are plenty of genuine opportunities to make a difference in the world if one does a little research and starts to take the initiative. A recent documentary about the struggle for girls' education suggests some ideas.
"Girl Rising" is a new film that promotes the potential power of grassroots efforts for social change. It gets students started with a terrific idea and a platform to improve the lives of others – and their own – as they learn how to network with individuals and organizations and develop ideas themselves. The groundbreaking film, directed by an Academy Award nominee, tells the stories of nine girls from different Third World countries, and their struggles just to go to school. The producers paired these real girls with renowned writers who tell the girls' stories, as re-enacted by the girls themselves. The logo of "10x10", which produced this film, says it all: "Educate Girls; Change the World." Their mission is to get the film seen and start people talking, eventually to effect real progress. 10x10 has partnered with many large and well-established organizations and companies and is committed to the idea that "global change begins with individual action."
How can students get involved? Visit the website for the movie and for the organization to find out how to arrange a screening of the film. Find more ideas here on raising "awareness about why girls matter to all of us;" talk with friends, teachers and parents; and follow leads with emails, phone calls. Taking one action will begin a path to enriching experiences and fostering new ideas that can do a lot more for community – and for the students, themselves – than merely building overpriced outhouses.