Saturday, May 23, 2015

More Than One Way To Serve

Besides horse shows and houseguests and a single, quick family vacation, this coming summer will be all about college admissions.

Believe me, no one is looking forward to it less than my daughter. (Except maybe me.)

We need to visit more schools, work on essays and create my daughter's first résumé

Say what?

I put together my first résumé about six months after I graduated from college. I had won a fellowship which included a paid internship at a New York publishing company, so I did my real job hunting a little later than my classmates. Anyway, I was twenty-two and had actually worked for half a year. My daughter is seventeen. What is she supposed to put on her résumé? (Actually, when I was seventeen, I did have a résumé, but it was just because I was pursuing acting work.)

According to the website, my daughter's
résumé should include:

• A heading: that's the easy part: name and address
• Her objective: college acceptance and merit scholarships
• Key stats: class ranking, GPA, SAT and/or ACT scores
• Education: high school, AP and Honors courses
• School activities: basically ... well ... none, but I assume we can address the past 12 years of horse lessons, training and competitions
• Honors and awards: by year
• Enrichment activities: travel, hobbies
• Work experience: include special duties or recognition
• Other: they encourage us to find a "hook" or "wow factor"
• References

None of the above is particularly daunting. But, there is one other item, nestled in between "Honors and awards" and "Enrichment activities."

Community service.

So now we're looking for a volunteer opportunity, a formal "service" project that she can list on her college and National Honor Society applications. She needs to find something to which she can donate "at least twenty hours" of her time. And she'll need a letter of recommendation and signature from someone in charge.

I find this extremely irritating and superficial. Most of the teens I've talked to are contributing time to a cause for the very two reasons I've outlined above. For those reasons — and pretty much only those reasons.

Service is important, don't get me wrong. But, there are lots of ways to give back.

When we first gave my daughter an allowance, we were pretty generous: $10 a week. (I think I earned about 35¢, but milk was probably a nickel and we probably walked to school barefoot, in snow, uphill, both ways.) With that $10, however, came stipulations. She had to save some of it and donate some of it. She made donations to everything from animal rescues to cancer rides. Often, if there was something that really moved her, we would match her donation.

As a family, we traveled to New Orleans a few months after Hurricane Katrina. We worked in a relief station in a town called Aribe, which was utterly destroyed. Not only did my daughter — then quite little — serve, but she got to know some of the storm's victims. And she worked her tail off.

Every year since before she can remember, my daughter has helped us make school backpacks and Christmas stockings for needy children in our area. In fact, she took the exercise so to heart that she contacted the president of the organization and suggested that he add each child's "favorite color" to the age and gender information we already received. As a kid herself, she thought it would be terrible (tragic even) if a girl who liked blue got a backpack in pink.

She sponsors a child in Indonesia and writes to her often, including paper dolls and stickers that can be sent flat through the mail. (We were warned early on that if we sent actual 3-D packages, our sponsored child's family would have to pay exorbitant import duties.) Thanks to the sponsorship (which, believe me, is less than my daughter's Frappuccino habit), the girl gets to go to school and is hoping to become a teacher.

She also adopted a young officer in Afghanistan through an organization called Soldier's Angels. For two years, my daughter sent him a letter every week and a package once a month (for some reason, beef jerky was always one of the requested items). When he finally returned home, he sent her a dog tag with her name on it as a "Thank you."

Through the same organization, we adopted a soldier's family one Christmas. Together, we looked up grocery stores near their address and bought a gift card so they could enjoy a holiday feast. We stuffed stockings and picked out gifts for the two children (a little girl and a toddler), and included lots of decorations, treats and trinkets in the box we sent as well.

My daughter is also generous with her time when any classmates need help. (Between you and me, she should be paid for all the un-official Physics tutoring she's done this year.)
And, I haven't even listed (quite honestly, because I can't) how many walk-a-thons, cancer rides, horse rescues and school fundraisers we've contributed to. Most recently, my daughter donated to a group that lets inner city kids experience horseback riding. When she was younger, she helped the same group create its "Read to Ride" program.

Bottom line. My daughter has served since she was very small and continues to do so when and how she can. Either with her money or her time. The thing is, when it comes to time, she is more than fully committed these days  — between schoolwork; SAT, ACT and AP tests; two part-time jobs; and training at the stable 5-6 days a week, it's very hard to find free time for a regular volunteer gig. But, if I added up all the hours she has spent putting together stockings, backpacks, reading lists, letters to Indonesia and packages to Afghanistan, the number of hours would be significantly more than twenty. The only problem is that none of the above exactly fit the very prescribed idea of "service" when it comes to college applications. There's no one to write the official recommendation letter. 

So now, we're shopping around for a service gig for the summer. Something with horses, of course. Or children. Or horses and children.

Expecting teens to serve isn't what's bothering me. We should all serve when and how and as we can. It's the limited definition that's my issue. Mahatma Gandhi said that "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." So I'll look on the bright side. My daughter will find herself this summer, assuming she finds the opportunity and — here's the real challenge — finds the time.

Any chance her teachers would forego summer reading assignments so she can serve?

I didn't think so.

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