Learning to Serve

Now that school is underway, students seem busier than ever. My youngest is an example. He has a full course load including AP classes, plays a varsity sport, and has a job as well. So far, he’s been juggling it all fairly well with the only side effects being those of tiredness and limited time to pursue his art.

Like some of his other classmates, he was recently inducted into National Honor Society.  Membership in this organization entails providing volunteer community service, and service to the school as a peer tutor. None of the service requirements are brand new to him. He has been involved in serving through church and his sports teams. He has also had a me as a role model, as I have served thousands hours over the last 15 years as a community garden group leader, master gardener, and school enrichment group facilitator for literacy activities.  I also had roles in various church organizations that were based in service. My family has seen service in action.

Keys to Service

However, I know it is not easy. When I first started to volunteer, it was at our local Children’s Museum. I was anxious and tentative, not sure of my role or what would be expected of me.  But, soon, I found a key to volunteering.  Do what you love!  It makes what could be a chore, an easy task.  My oldest son took this advice to heart when he had to perform 150 hours of service for his NHS membership at a different school. He was a musician and donated his time to play the keyboard for our resident school’s show choir band.  I am sure he’ll tell you it wasn’t easy, but at least he was doing something he was good at and that he enjoyed.

Key #1: Choose something you love to donate your time and skill as a volunteer.

The second key is that you need to just jump in with both feet. I am an anxious person and regularly overthink decisions or actions. It is not necessary to do this when volunteering. Recognize that you will be anxious and that it is normal to feel that way in new situations. I think this is a common stumbling block for my sons and many other teenagers. As humans, we don’t like to do what makes us uncomfortable. But, being placed in situations that are new to us, such as serving one’s community, makes us grow.  The nerves don’t last for long once you are involved. I know. I regularly feel them and they regularly disappear. Even yesterday, I put a call out over social media for friends to help me with a volunteer service night in our community. Was I nervous doing it? Yes. I am still nervous. But, I know it will be okay and someone will step forward to help. I just need to have faith and be patient.

Key #2: Don’t be nervous, just jump in and help!

A third key is to remember that you are one of many. We were reminded of this when the NHS activities required students to sign up to help at some mandatory events. The spots filled quickly – very quickly! It was a good reminder to act on Key #2 and be one of many. Usually, although it has not been true in my own personal service experience, you are not serving alone. And, for teens, I think that is a good thing.  Common goals and camaraderie make for good experiences – experiences that should make you want to serve again, and again!

Key #3: As a volunteer, you are one of many.

This brings us to our fourth key to learning how to serve: looking for opportunities. Once you experience successful volunteering and a sense of belonging to your community, you’ll want to look for other opportunities to serve. You’ll see them everywhere. And, if you don’t see them, you can create ways to serve as well.  As your experience grows in community service, you’ll feel compelled to find ways to serve and give back. I know this is true for myself. I’ve also seen this develop in students. Service is like a seed that grows. Once it has established some good roots, it will continue to grow and flower!  The roots are what the NHS service requirements are providing our young leaders.

#4: Look for opportunities to serve.

By serving their communities, students are becoming young role models for others.  We all need to know we belong somewhere and that people care about us. What better way to know that than to get involved in serving others.

#5: Embrace being part of something good

As a parent, and an experienced adult volunteer, I know the initial steps of learning to serve are difficult.  Sometimes, it is hard to get over the nerves, or be put in the “wobbly place” of being unsure of what we are supposed to do. But, if we can support our students as they learn to serve by role modeling, validating their feelings, and having pride in the contributions they are making, our communities will benefit.




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