Serve it up

Posted: October 3, 2016

Students seek the benefits of serving their community

If you’ve been around Minnehaha for long enough, then you’re used to the different service projects going on, like yearly food drives and Cultural Field Experience in the spring. Service has always been a core part of Minnehaha, but the community service interns have made it their goal this year to bring new opportunities to the school and enhance the way we serve.

“A lot of students do participate in [service]; I don’t know if we’re doing it as a community,” said Jennifer Tillman, who advises the community service interns. Tillman believes unity can go a long way.

“A group mentality of community service would do a lot to bring people together,” she said. “As people work together, I think they can do more than anyone can individually.”

It’s also important to consider the impact that service makes on individual lives. “They say, ‘one’s a tragedy, but a million’s a statistic,'” said junior Ellie Bedingham, a community service intern. It can be easy to disregard the human lives that depend on volunteers and charities, and it’s necessary to know the story behind the service and “show how it affects these people,” said Bedingham.

Bedingham began volunteering at a young age with House of Hope, a Presbyterian church in St. Paul. She and her family participated in a program called “Project Home,” where her church sets apart a space in the building for a family to temporarily live. The church also provides the family with essentials such as food and running water.

“We’ll play with the kids a lot and show them around, and make them feel welcome,” she said.

Throughout the years, Bedingham has found new passions and has used them to help others. Last year, her confirmation teacher told her about Regions Hospital, and Bedingham has been volunteering there ever since.

She always remembers talking to the patients. “They’re telling their stories, and they’re always saying how thankful they are for you,” she said.

Bedingham admits it’s sometimes hard to serve. “I was a little conflicted about if I should do volunteering,” she said, but she’s realized it’s worth it. “I could [volunteer] or watch Netflix for four hours, which is what I’d probably be doing on a Friday night anyway.”

Those few hours of volunteering may have more of a lifelong effect than you think.

Studies have shown that people who volunteer live longer than people who don’t. Volunteering also boosts self-confidence and improves mental health.

The benefits that come with volunteering aren’t just internal. A study conducted by TimeBank showed that 73 percent of employers would choose an employee with volunteering experience over one without. In addition, 94 percent of employees who volunteered adopted habits that helped them land their first job, improve their salary, or get promoted.

The habits built in high school continue on into adult life. Joseph E. Kahne, a professor of education at Mills College, surveyed more than 500 juniors and seniors from 19 different high schools in California, according to New York Times. Students who served in high school were much more likely to serve as adults, while those who didn’t regularly serve weren’t as likely to.

That being said, it’s not always easy to serve. “It’s definitely hard-we’re kids. The youth don’t have as many opportunities to serve as adults will,” said Bedingham. “It’s hard to find things when you’re not always keeping your eyes open.”

Fitting room into a high schooler’s busy schedule can also be a challenge. “Teenagers, especially in this school, are involved a lot of extracurricular activities,” said Tillman. “So the idea of committing another weekend or something and trying to find room for service isn’t always a priority when you have a sports event or practice.”

For many people, volunteering is far out of their comfort zone. Even when students are motivated to serve, it can be hard to get involved or find the right place to volunteer.

“I think some people are intimidated by the idea of doing community service because they don’t know where or how, or they don’t want to show up and do it by themselves,” said Tillman.

“I really think that the students will be more motivated to do it when they realize-yes, a lot of students are doing it, and they can do it together.”

It’s easy to get caught up in the stress of everyday life: making it on time to the next class, winning the game, or making time for friends. But spending time in the community surfaces unique experiences and stories, putting things into perspective.

“We’re all together,” said Bedingham. “You could be homeless in a couple years for all you know. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and so giving back is just so important.”

We sometimes live “in our own bubble,” she said. “[We think] we deserve to have all these expensive clothes and shoes and food and our house. [In real life], it’s just different.”

Any amount of service is significant-whether it’s handing out water bottles or working at a nonprofit organization. Service not only helps the ones who need it the most, but it brings people together in a special way. “[My favorite part is] the thankfulness you get from other people,” said Bedingham. “You don’t have to do anything at all, and they’ll just be thanking you. And you see the difference in their life too.”

“Small actions can make a difference,” said Tillman. “Even small acts of service, while they might not solve a big problem, can make a difference in an individual’s life, and that really makes it worth it.”

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