Like most people, one of my first introductions to community service began in high school with the general 40 hour requirement over 4 years. Fortunately, my commitment did not end in high school, but instead opened up a world of opportunities, experiences, and friendships. Reflecting on how much service has impacted my life, I think about one of the service projects I witnessed during my term with National Health Corps. Philadelphia Youth Action put on a Self Love event for high school students to work on boosting confidence in positive, affirming ways by providing fitness workshops, makeup tutorials, and confidence building workshops. What was particularly special about this event was the fact it was designed, implemented and primarily facilitated by youth -- specifically, high school and college students from the local Philadelphia area. So, students in attendance were able to learn and grow through the help of peers. It was refreshing to see this kind of commitment from students as young as 15. I envisioned many of them finishing college and joining a service program like AmeriCorps.
As amazing as this event was, it did also highlight the need for people to volunteer, simply for the experience of the attendees. Volunteerism has been on a steady slow decline for the last 10 years. I am sure there are a number of reasons as to why it’s been declining, but I think it’s important to address the question of “Why do you serve?”. As I am finishing my second term of AmeriCorps, I have been asked this question more times than I can count. I’d have to start at the basics. When people try to answer, commonly you hear something around serving the “less fortunate,” the “impoverished people,” or worse, “because I have to.” All throughout high school, community service is pushed onto students as just another requirement, which dampens their perception of service just as they are being introduced to it. If we reframe the meaning and significance of service in a positive way, I wonder what the result would be. Maybe when asked, “why do you serve?” students would respond more enthusiastically.
Youth Action and AmeriCorps are already encouraging this by committing young people to serve with and for their peers. Per the Managing Director, Anthony Phillips, “Youth Action produces socially responsible leaders by providing them with training, mentorship, funding, and other resources to lead and serve their communities.” The same vigor and commitment I saw in my fellow NHC members I also saw in these students. As I am finishing up my term, I can only ponder on my gratitude for service. NHC has been a culminating experience for my service journey. It has taught me countless skills, the power of words, how to be humble, how to deal with crises (and avoid them too), and even question whether or not service could ever truly be altruistic. Who knows? I do know it has laid the groundwork for continued service for me. My experience with National Health Corps has been one that will stay with me forever.
This blog post was written by NHC Philadelphia member Kendra Hester.
Kendra serves as a Patient Advocate at Philadelphia Department of Public Health-AHS, Health Center 5.