Do it for the Kids, Not for the Colleges

Written by Jamie Hinz

If you’ve ever been a camper at Springhill, it’s likely that you’ve heard the phrase “FTK.”

It means “For The Kids.” It m e a n s “give up being cool.” It means “step up to the plate.” It means “remember people doing this for you?” It is a way for counselors or volunteers to remind each other, and themselves, why they are at camp: to the serve kids.

Unfortunately, for the majority of teenagers who participate in community service, it’s not all always about the kids. Or the old people. Or the animals. Or the homeless. Instead, it’s about a nifty line item on their future college application’s list of accomplishments.

And it’s sad.

One way or another, every student at Seaholm will have done some type of community service by the time they graduate. Whether it’s required for Health class or National Honors Society, these hours come from all over: from building houses in Guatemala to giving blood during a school day. So does it matter if those hours are selfish or heartfelt? After all, the services are being done: the leaves raked, the homeless fed, the flyers handed out, the children watched, and the old lady helped across the street. But will the college admissions person reading your application know the difference?

Well, in an email interview, college counseling advisor at Roeper High School and author of College is Yours in 600 Words or Less Patrick O’Connor says yes.

“When it comes to community service, they can very easily sort out the truly committed from the posers,” said O’Connor. “Reviewing applications is like reading a good book; colleges are able to see a number of layers and meanings all at the same time, and that helps them understand what each student would bring to campus if they were admitted.” Truth is, as O’Connor points out in his article, there’s also plenty of need right around home. It might be less glamorous than getting a tan in some impoverished country, but it might also appear less expensive and more sincere to college admissions counselors.

O’ Connor has written about the community service sham himself, in an article on The Christian Science Monitor’s website. He believes it’s time for high school students applying to college to take a new look at community service. “Wherever you serve, whomever you serve, real service only begins when you park your aspirations at the door and give yourself over to the work at hand,” O’Connor says.

I admit to knowing the service I’ve done through Springhill and Younglife would look good on my college resume. But that was never my main goal.

I’d also like to think that if no colleges cared about community service I would still be a Younglife leader and a Springhill TST member and the Class of 2012’s Field Day Chair. That is not the case with everyone. It’s always interesting to see who continues serving their community after they are accepted to their university of choice.

When I was cleaning dirty bathrooms, washing greasy plates, jumping in a freezing lake first so that others might follow, or dancing like a crazy person to get a middle school kid out of their comfort zone, it wasn’t “this is for my college application” that bolstered me through.

It was FTK–the same reason I’ve taken a job at Springhill this summer lifeguarding for one third the money I have previously made working at a country club. It was the only way I knew how to say, “thank you” to the leaders, counselors, area directors, Younglife and Springhill staff that served me, taught me, encouraged me, challenged me, and helped shape me into the person I am today.

I served because I genuinely wanted to give back. And I hope the college I choose to attend sees that.

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