Why Service Work Matters For High Schoolers And the Rest of US

October 15th is rapidly approaching and I am busy rereading drafts of recommendations for those students who have deadlines for early decision applications and scholarship awards. This year, most early decision recs are being sent to UNC-Chapel Hill, my wife’s alma mater. Some to App State’s Honors College. A couple to USC in Columbia. One to my beloved Wake Forest.

I am also honored to write a few for Morehead-Cain and Park scholarship consideration.

A transcript can say many things about academic achievement and course work mastered. Test scores can be sent easily. Numbers can be measured against other numbers.

So, when I write a recommendation I try and write about what kind of service work a student may have performed. It helps paint a better picture of a student and an even better image of a person who is committed to community.

This past month, West Forsyth played host again to the Piedmont Down Syndrome Support Network’s Buddy Walk. It is the biggest event of the year and its most vital fundraiser. In the years that it has occurred at West, nearly $400,000 has been raised to help families of children with special needs, specifically Down Syndrome. I am in one of those families. My son, Malcolm, happens to be “genetically enhanced.”

I get to recruit the student volunteers for this big day, and literally about an hour ago I looked at the volunteer sign-up sheet. Almost 250 students from West volunteered and came to help.


That’s nearly ten percent of the student body came out to help other people.

Our country talks of deficits, usually in quantifiable ways like money and materials and even time. However, the biggest deficit I believe we have as a country is a deficit of empathy. We simply have forgotten to empathize and put ourselves in the shoes of others.

But when you see as a teacher, parent, taxpayer, voter, and concerned citizen over 200 students from one school going out of their way on a Saturday morning to help some families like mine with some special kids, then you see how that deficit can quickly be eliminated.

I will write about that all day long on a recommendation because service work matters to us as a society. We never know when we will need it for ourselves.

Just tonight West had a fundraiser for two adopted schools in Texas and Florida drastically affected by recent hurricanes. Students wanted to help other students. In a span of about two hours, a bunch of students raised several hundred dollars for some other students because they wanted other school families to be able to stay together the way these kids bonded with each other tonight.

It would take several hands with many fingers to count all the ways that students in many high schools are performing service work that is not necessarily documented on some time sheet to fulfill a requirement that might make a college application look good.

If a student cares about his/her community, then that student will find a way to help. That action to help creates a bond and whittles away at the deficit of empathy. It creates community. And it shows that we adults could learn a lot from these students.

In fact, we need that desperately.

That and it makes writing a lot of these recs so much easier.