Emma Knight, junior, and I, freshman, in 2020 delivering food for SixFeetSupplies. (Image courtesy of Shaun Thomas)

Education

Column: The importance of student-run volunteer projects outside school

Volunteering is an integral part of our global, national and local communities. Volunteers are an integral part of many charitable nonprofit organizations, including American volunteers, who specifically contribute an estimated $193 billion of their time to their communities. Not only does volunteering provide benefits to respective communities, but volunteering also provides both interpersonal and intrapersonal benefits.…
<a href="https://highschool.latimes.com/author/shaunthomas18/" target="_self">Shaun Thomas</a>

Shaun Thomas

August 25, 2021

Volunteering is an integral part of our global, national and local communities. Volunteers are an integral part of many charitable nonprofit organizations, including American volunteers, who specifically contribute an estimated $193 billion of their time to their communities.

Not only does volunteering provide benefits to respective communities, but volunteering also provides both interpersonal and intrapersonal benefits. While helping out, you have the opportunity to connect to others by making new friends or important contacts. When building new friends, or even volunteering with current friends, volunteers have the chance to develop their social skills while being able to branch out to make more friends or contacts who have the same interests.

By volunteering and meeting contacts, volunteers have often found themselves in situations where they could advance their careers, including the opportunity to be exposed to internships and nonprofit organizations. It is recommended that people who plan to get a career in competitive fields volunteer due to dabbling in a career without making a commitment through their unpaid work.

For example, medical school admissions view volunteering as a boost on applications, because an applicant can hone their soft skills while proving that they are dedicated to the medical field for the right reasons.

Obviously, to take action, a person needs to find the right volunteer opportunities that work for them. Forbes lists many tips one can do to find the right volunteer opportunity.

First, a volunteer has to consider their true purpose of why they need to volunteer and what they have to offer. Some may want to develop their skills, some may want to meet new friends and some may want to contribute to a mission. Then, a volunteer must establish what their role is, and how much they can impact and commit to their mission.

Do they have the skills to take on higher responsibilities? Do they have the time to volunteer for a specific amount of hours?

Lastly, a volunteer must understand that they have to take it slowly. They may not be given the reins of the organization they are volunteering for, or they may not be as tasked as much while they are volunteering. Each volunteering mission is different, and an individual volunteer story may have different backgrounds and unique purposes.

Right now, the most common reason why kids volunteer is for a minimum amount of service hours for clubs and honor societies such as Key Club, NHS (National Honor Society) and CSF (California Scholarship Federation).

While these organizations are amazing and have contributed greatly to student development, students also need a “why factor” or a “want” to keep volunteering after high school. Even though most of these organizations aim to create a sense of service among high school students, a lot of them are locally composed of performative volunteers who only volunteer for a minimum hour requirement per academic semester (usually 10), without reflective reason or aim goal through volunteering.

This may be due to the fact that they are more of a chapter of a bigger organization, rather than the ones who start the organization to understand its purpose. This could also be due to the fact that most of them just require miscellaneous volunteering activities for a small log to track hours, rather than specialized volunteering with a commitment to see a change in a given community.

A good example of taking action as a local lead is starting a service project outside of school with an objective to tackle a problem in one’s local community. Santa Clarita Valley’s SixFeetSolutions and SixFeetSupplies has a great story and has garnered around 100 high school volunteers from places all over the valley.

The coronavirus took a big hit on Santa Clarita as it disproportionately affected certain groups, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, when it came to collecting everyday necessities. SixFeetSupplies aimed to create a reliable system that provides groceries, items in limited supply, and emergency items.

As one of the founding members, I got to contribute to the TOAST (the process and inspiration behind the project). I really got to see what it was like creating SixFeetSupplies while volunteering on both the research team and the delivery team. Watching juniors Zoe Monterola and Eric Luo lead, I learned a lot of skills and learned how to take initiative.

Taking the next step, we expanded into SixFeetSolutions and tackled other problems in our local community. For example, many people lost free tutoring services from their schools, including my school, Academy of the Canyons. Locally, we created SixFeetStudying where a group of students, including me, from grades 9-12 tutored other children throughout the 10 high schools in our valley with Hart-District-specific material.

With SixFeetSkills, the project aimed to equip young people with the necessary resources and information to navigate the rapidly-changing workforce and college. I would say, these projects were a success and some of them are still ongoing as we are adapting them in order to fit a post-covid reality.

Volunteer societies and clubs are great and provide many benefits, but in order to enhance those benefits, students need to have a story to tell and a unique, local aim to achieve in order to genuinely continue volunteering after high school.

What service projects like SixFeetSupplies and SixFeetSolutions add onto groups like NHS or CSF is the story and authenticity they provide behind their project in order to fill those loopholes mentioned earlier. There are no volunteer requirement logs, and the aim is the same when volunteering as one stays committed to the mission of the student-run organization.

These student-led projects at the community level give real leadership opportunities to the kids who contribute to the project. With the enhancement of school volunteer organizations, students can use their service projects outside of school to enhance their love for solving specific problems, while harnessing their own personal skills.

The best part is: it counts as an extracurricular activity that allows one to obtain important contacts and meet new friends in a specialized form of volunteering. By having the main aim and being part of the development of the project, students will develop a true love for volunteering while simultaneously understanding the process and commitment it takes to address and handle bigger issues our world faces.