A few weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague. We were talking about our respective service years in AmeriCorps and how our service makes a difference within areas of need in our communities. She said that while she felt like her service was meaningful, there’s only so much that one person can do. Problems in our society aren’t going to change and that people should just do their job and go home. Her statement seemed a little counter-productive to me. In an effort to end the conversation on a positive note, I suggested that even though there are universal problems, the way those problems manifest are different and that maybe creating specific solutions for specific communities is a better solution to solving the world’s ills. Granted, I don’t believe that the world’s ills can be resolved on the whole, but I do believe that people can do more than just “their jobs” and see a positive impact on their communities.
Last Thursday, I had an opportunity to attend a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner for volunteers who served with the Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), an organization that provides community resources and safe, affordable housing to low income residents. The event was beautiful and represented that organization’s commitment to recognizing the efforts of individuals who went above and beyond their “jobs” to make change happen within their respective communities. From holding weekly Wii championships for residents to volunteering as a mentor in the community youth development program, these volunteers work on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to serve. Yes, I will admit that the quotes and sayings thrown around during the evening where very “fuzzy wuzzy” and cliché. I am not naïve enough to think that saying to someone “Service is the gift that keeps on giving” will convince them that they should do more than their job in order to bring about change. What I am prepared to do is to suggest that community-based initiatives based on ideas and solutions thought of by all members of a particular community.
The model that CPDC uses is based on the premise of “Neighbors helping neighbors”. Within this model, residents of their communities are given the means to start programs, run activities, and create change for themselves and for their neighbors. This model allows them to reap the benefit of serving their community while receiving the benefits of those services. The keynote speaker, Malkia Lydia of Public Allies DC expounded further on this idea that service is actually a cycle that continues. Although I liked what she said, and agree that when you serve you also receive, I think the premise of service should be to make your service so impactful that it’s no longer necessary. You know, the idea that you do your job so well that you work yourself out of it? This can only be done when organizations, businesses, community members, and government agencies collaborate to bring specific changes to specific communities rather that creating a model that acts as a standard for alleviating social problems on a general scale.
One quote from the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner that did, however, stick with me was also on the “fuzzy-wuzzy” side, but it reflected my own personal motto for service. The quote read as follows: How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to start improving the world. After later research I found that this is a quote taken from the Diary of Anne Frank. It’s ironic that an adolescent could provide such an insight on service and its potential for impact. If a teenager can see the benefit of doing more than just your “job”, why is it so hard for us as adults? What do you do to serve in your community? Please share your service stories with us here at Volunteer Maryland!