Community service is a non-paying job performed by someone or a group of people for the benefit of the public or its institutions. Performing community service is not the same as volunteering, since it is not always performed on a voluntary basis. It may be performed for a variety of reasons:
- It may be required by a government as a part of citizenship requirements, generally in lieu of military service.
- It may be required as a substitution of, or in addition to, other criminal justice sanctions – when performed for this reason it may also be referred to as community payback.
- It may be mandated by schools to meet the requirements of a class, such as in the case of service-learning or to meet the requirements of graduation.
- In the UK, it has been made a condition of the receipt of certain benefits, including disability-related ones. (see Workfare in the United Kingdom)
- In Sweden it's a suspended sentence called "samhällstjänst" ("society service").
High school graduation and community work
Some educational jurisdictions in the United States require students to perform community service hours to graduate from high school. In some high schools in Washington, for example, students must finish 200 hours of community service to get a diploma. Some school districts in Washington, including Seattle Public Schools, differentiate between community service and "service learning," requiring students to demonstrate that their work has contributed to their education. If a student in high school is taking an AVID course, community service is often needed. Whether American public schools could require volunteer hours for high school graduation was challenged in Immediato v. Rye Neck School District, but the court found no violation.
Many other high schools do not require community service hours for graduation, but still see an impressive number of students get involved in their community. For example, in Palo Alto, California, students at Palo Alto High School log about 45,000 hours of community service every year. As a result, the school's College and Career Center awards about 250–300 students the President's Volunteer Service Award every year for their hard work.
Though not technically considered a requirement, many colleges include community service as an unofficial requirement for acceptance. However, some colleges prefer work experience over community service, and some require that their students also continue community service for some specific number of hours to graduate. Some schools also offer unique “community service” courses, awarding credit to students who complete a certain number of community service hours. Some academic honor societies, along with some fraternities and sororities in North America, require community service to join and others require each member to continue doing community service.
Beginning in the 1980s, colleges began using service-learning as a pedagogy. A partnership of college presidents began in 1985 with the initiative of boosting community service in their colleges. This alliance called Campus Compact, led the way for many other schools to adopt service-learning courses and activities.
Service-learning courses vary widely in time span, quality, and in the balance of “service” and “learning” stressed in the course. A typical service-learning course, however, will have these three factors in common:
- A “service” component where the student spends time serving in the community meeting actual needs.
- A “learning” component where students seek out or are taught information that they will integrate into their service. Learning is often both interpersonal and academic.
- A “reflection” component that ties the service and learning together. Reflection is sometimes symbolized by the hyphen in the term “service-learning” to indicate that it has a central role in learning by serving. Reflection is simply a scheduled consideration of one’s own experiences and thoughts. This can take many forms, including journals, blogs, and discussions.
Service-learning courses present learning the material in context, meaning that students often learn effectively and tend to apply what was learned. As the book Where’s the Learning in Service-Learning? notes, “Students engaged in service-learning are engaged in authentic situations; they get to know real people whose lives are affected by these issues… As a result, they have lots of questions — real questions that they want to have answered." Thus, students are interested and motivated to learn the materials in order to resolve their questions.
Community service-learning tends to connect or re-connect students with serving in their community after their course is completed. It creates a bridge for the lack of community service found among college-age people in the United States.
The one serving may be able to take something away from the experience and be able to use any newfound knowledge or interpersonal discoveries to improve their future servitude and the people around them. In order to gain the most out of community service, there should be an element of learning balanced with the serving aspect. By learning and serving all at the same time, one can improve their community and surroundings while learning life lessons and building character in ways that will help them to further impact the world in the future.
Community service-learning is “about leadership development as well as traditional information and skill acquisition.” Therefore, the combination of people doing service and learning at the same time teaches them how to be effective and, more importantly, how to be effective about what is important to them. It improves their overall experience and application opportunities they will gain from it. By adding service to learning, and balancing the two, community service can become more than just the simple act of serving. It takes small steps to create big change and this is what service-learning hopes to achieve. By being a classroom, a hands-on learning experience, and an opportunity to change the community, people are able to not only serve, but impact themselves as well.
Community Service-Learning: Definition
For community service-learning to be properly applied and understood, one must start with a good definition of service-learning. According to Fayetteville State University, “Service learning is a process of involving students in community service activities combined with facilitated means for applying the experience to their academic and personal development. It is a form of experiential education aimed at enhancing and enriching student learning in course material. When compared to other forms of experiential learning like internships and cooperative education, it is similar in that it is student-centered, hands-on and directly applicable to the curriculum.”
Professor Freddy Cardoza defined Community Service-Learning as “Service learning is a Pedogogy (or a specific teaching-learning approach) that has few lectures, and is a more interactive hand's on educational strategy which provides students with instruction while leading them through meaningful community service experiences and engaging them in personal reflection on those experiences in order to build character and to teach problem-solving skills and civic responsibility.” Professor Cardoza stressed that it was important for a student take some time and reflect on what they are experiencing, seeing, doing, and what problems they are encountering and how they are going to apply what they have been learning to solve these problems. In other words, service-learning aims to link the personal and interpersonal development with cognitive development, as well as equipping the student with critical knowledge to help them understand the world.
Character.org defines Service-Learning this way: "Service learning is different than community service in several key ways. Service learning includes student leadership, reflective and academic components, and chances for celebration once the service activity has been successfully completed. Students reflect on community needs, ways to help, and once their service has been completed, they can internalise how their efforts have helped, while learning more about academics such as geography, math, or science."
From these definitions, we can come up with our own definition of Community Service-Learning: "A teaching method that takes what is taught in a classroom and equips the student to apply that knowledge in real world situations, while equipping them to take their place in the world, become better citizens, and to be active social and economic problem solvers."
Court ordered service
People convicted of crimes may be required to perform community services or to work for agencies in the sentencing jurisdiction either entirely or partially as a substitution of other judicial remedies and sanctions, such as incarceration or fines. For instance, a fine may be reduced in exchange for a prescribed number of hours of community service. The court may allow the convict to choose their community service, which must then be documented by "credible agencies", such as non-profit organizations, or may mandate a specific service.
Sometimes the sentencing is specifically targeted to the convict's crime, for example, a litterer may have to clean a park or roadside, or a drunk driver might appear before school groups to explain why drunk driving is a crime. Also, a sentence allowing for a broader choice may prohibit certain services that the offender would reasonably be expected to perform anyway; for example, a convicted lawyer might be specifically prohibited from counting pro bono legal service.
Corporate social responsibility
Some employers involve their staff in some kind of community service programming, such as with the United Way of America. This may be completely voluntary or a condition of employment, or anything in between.
In addition, approximately 40% of Fortune 500 companies offer volunteer grant programs where companies provide monetary donations to nonprofit organizations in recognition of their employee's volunteerism (Ex. $500 volunteer grant after 25 hours of community service).
Community service in the United States is often similar to that in Canada. In Europe and Australia, community service is an option for many criminal sentences as an alternative to incarceration. In the United Kingdom, community service is now officially referred to by the Home Office as more straightforward "compulsory unpaid work". Compulsory unpaid work includes up to 300 hours of activities, such as conservation work, cleaning up graffiti, or working with a charity. The Howard League for Penal Reform (the world's oldest prison reform organization) is a prominent advocate for the increased use of community sentencing in order to reduce the prison population and improve the rehabilitation of those sentenced for criminal activity.
The International Baccalaureate program requires 50 hours of community service, together with a written reflection on the service performed, to fulfill the requirement of 150 hours of CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) and receive an IB Diploma.
In the United Kingdom people are sentenced to community service if they have claimed state benefits for longer than 6 months. The scheme is dubbed "the community action programme" and users are required to work (a literary formality to avoid employment minimum/non payment laws) in what is referred to as "mandatory volunteering" as part of a so-called "work based activity". Subjects can be required to work for as much as six months at forty hours per week for as little as sixty pounds sterling per week or face strict benefit sanctions of up to three years.
Florence Nightingale exercised the entrepreneurship trait of nursing to help improve the unstable conditions of hospitals during the mid 1800s. Her tasks compiled of planning ahead at what needed to be different and how she was going to attempt to change things for the better, acting upon the ideas she came up with, and finally leaving behind a notebook of ideas and recommendations to help the next generation prevent the same disaster of extremely high death rates from happening again. Not only did she organize fundraisers to raise money for the hospital and arrange more stable living conditions to improve the health of the soldiers in the hospital, but she also removed people who were lapsed at their job and delegated tasks to more capable people, sometimes having to do the work herself. She grew up with the desire to help people or anything that needed a hand. Her love for aid and service to others grew when she got older and despite her lack of support from her family she pursued her dream and sacrificed her life for other people. Her work is an epitome of community service. She wasn’t afraid to do the hard things if she knew it was going to make things better or as Niccolò Machiavelli puts it, “[T]here is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things…” Florence Nightingale is quoted as writing “The first thought I can remember, and the last was nursing work.” She served a specific group of people and benefited the public- which is community service.
Community service for institutions
Many clubs and groups require service activities. Service sororities and fraternities
Religious reasons for serving
Beyond required community service, some religious groups emphasize serving one’s community. These groups and churches reach out by holding Vacation Bible Schools for children, hosting Red Cross blood drives, having fall carnivals, or offering free meals. Through these services, churches are able to benefit neighborhoods and families. Some churches create non-profit organizations that can help the public. Crisis pregnancy centers are often run by religious groups to promote pro-life values in local families. To meet impoverished people’s needs, some churches provide a food pantry or start a homeless shelter. Also, certain churches will run a day care so that busy parents can work, while their children are cared for by church staff.
Christianity, the foundation of thousands of service organizations, holds many strong beliefs about community service. Christians view serving in one’s church and community as a way of showing God’s unconditional love. According to the Christian Bible, 1 Peter 4:10–11 (NIV) says:
“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
These verses are the basis for Christian belief in outreach using one’s abilities, which they believe are given by God. According to Dr. Freddy Cardoza, a teacher at biblical Biola University, Christians are called to serve people because all people are made in God’s image. Christianity teaches that Jesus was a perfect example of serving during His time on earth. Jesus Christ healed the sick, fed thousands of people, and died for all mankind. Dedicated Christians see the importance of community service to show God’s love and to further spread the Gospel.
In addition, Christian belief states that they hold dual-citizenship, both in the kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of earth. They believe that they have a responsibility to live life to the full while on earth, reaching out to others and meeting their needs, but also live in such a way as to prepare for eternity spent in Heaven. This means that they should be invested in both kingdoms, and everything they do should incorporate this line of thinking. 2 Corinthians 9:12-13 (NIV translation of the Bible) says:
"This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else."
These verses illustrate the act of meeting the needs of the community, while also acting with the Kingdom of Heaven in mind by encouraging spiritual growth in those individuals. Because Christians believe that all people are created in God's image, they believe that this means that they are a mortal representative of God to everyone they come in contact with. This adds meaning to everything that they do and say in the service of others. If they do not do their best to minister to both the physical and spiritual needs of others, they are not being good representatives of God's love.
Examples of Christian community service
Many well-known non-governmental (NGO) community service organizations were founded by Christians seeking to put their beliefs into practice. Three prominent examples are Samaritan's Purse, Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity.
Samaritan's Purse was birthed out of the passionate prayer of evangelist Robert Pierce, "Let my heart be broken for the things which break the heart of God". After traveling extensively throughout Asia and seeing first-hand the suffering of impoverished children, lepers and orphans, what started out as a simple prayer change into a vision which ultimately became reality in 1970, the year Robert Pierce founded Samaritan's Purse. Today, Samaritan's Purse reaches millions of people across the globe by providing aid such as disaster relief, medical assistance, and child care. A notable project birthed out of Samaritan's Purse is Operation Christmas Child headed by Franklin Graham.
The Salvation Army was founded by William Booth and his wife Catherine Booth in 1865. Booth was a Methodist minister and preacher on the streets of London. His tent meetings gathered crowds of drunkards, prostitutes and thieves who eventually became the first "soldiers" in the "army" which has now grown to 1,442,388 members in 126 countries. The Salvation Army's motto is "Doing the Most Good" and does so by providing aid such as shelter, food, clothing, spiritual training and disaster relief.
Habitat for Humanity is an organization that provides housing for people in need. Founded by Millard Fuller, its vision is to "put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope". Habitat for Humanity has built or repaired over 800,000 homes and served more than 4 million people worldwide since its creation in 1976. Their vision is "a world where everyone has a decent place to live".
Personal benefits of serving
Community service also allows those participating to reflect on the difference they are making in society. Some participants of a community service project may find themselves gaining a greater understanding of their roles in the community, as well as the impact of their contributions towards those in need of service. Because community service outlets vary, those who serve are exposed to many different kinds of people, environments, and situations.
With each new community service project, some participants may gain insightful experience in a variety of areas. Participants may also internalize the information that they found personally insightful for future use. While simply performing community service is valuable to the recipients, those serving often find it beneficial to pause and reflect on how they are changing society for the better. Schools often take students on community service projects in order for them to gain a greater understanding of how their individual actions affect the well being of the public. Participants may find that the giving of themselves to the public good may result in a more solidified view of self and purpose.
Those involved in community service learning may also find that after serving the community for an extended period of time, they have an advantage in real-world experience. Eventually, the skills and knowledge obtained while working with the community may be applied in future areas of work. Community service may also increase a participant's social connectivity. Because most community service opportunities allow others to interact and work with other individuals, this service may help volunteers network and connect with others towards a common goal.
People gain the most from their community service projects when they volunteer their time to help people that they have never interacted with before. This direct contact allows people to see life from a different perspective and reevaluate their opinions of others. Many young people who get involved in community service come out with a more well-rounded worldview.
Another benefit in participating in community service is a greater understanding and appreciation for diversity. Appreciating other cultures and breaking down stereotypes is important to becoming a responsible citizen and better person. By participating in a community service project where interaction is required, personal relationships can begin to grow. These personal relationships allow people to have informal and consistent interactions that through time will often lead to a breakdown of negative stereotypes surrounding one or both people. These relationships can also lead to gaining more opinions and viewpoints surrounding various topics that help the participants to grow in diversity. Stereotypes can be defined as, "believing unfairly that all people or things with a specific characteristic are the same." Stereotypes often reveal themselves in quick judgments based solely off of visible characteristics. These judgments move into a biased opinion when you believe that these judgments are always true. These stereotypes can be harmful to both personal relationships and relationships within the work place. Community Service helps people to realize that everyone does not fall into these preconceived ideas. Along with breaking down stereotypes, community service work can assist people in realizing that those they are helping and working with are no different from themselves. This realization can lead to empathizing with others. Learning to understand the needs and motivations of others, especially those who live different lives from our own, is an important part of living a productive life. This leads to a view of humanity that can help a person stay free of biased opinions of others and can lead to a more diverse and ultimately more productive and thought provoking life.
Choosing the right strategy
As pointed out by de Tocqueville, America, in sharp contrast with other developed countries, has had a formidable ability to form associations. Civilians have a unique desire and aptitude to organize themselves apart from government to address the needs in their communities. But in order for an effort to have the desired positive effect on society, it is indispensable that clear analyzing and purposeful strategizing are done. The root causes of the problems to be addressed must be identified and kept in mind throughout the elaborating and implementation of each movement or project. Individuals, like neighborhoods, cannot enjoy a permanent change if it is not an inner one. And the greatest form of community service is encouraging the members of the group to do just that.
Abraham Kuyper was an advocate of the sphere sovereignty, which honors the independence and autonomy of the “intermediate bodies” in society, such as schools, press, business, the arts, etc. He champions the right of every community to operate its own organizations and manage its own groups, with the foundational belief that a parent knows what his child really needs and that the local people are more capable of helping their fellow locals. Those who are in agreement with his views perceive community service as a “trampoline”, which seeks to launch their targets to better employments and lifestyles, avoiding at all costs the encouragement of destructive decision making for the mal-established goals caused by poorly developed community service efforts.
Amy L. Sherman, in her book Restorers of Hope, suggests that community service planning should be made with the valuable opinion of the local residents, since they have firsthand knowledge of the inside realities of their community's current state. Making them a part of the movement, change or project creates in the members of the community a sense of belonging and hope. Joint effort: relationships – these make the difference.
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- Community development
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- International Year of Volunteers
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- Make A Difference Day
- Mandela Day
- MLK Day of service
- Mitzvah Day
- Random Acts of Kindness Day
- The Howard League for Penal Reform
- Penal labour
- Volunteer Centres Ireland
- Volunteer travel
- Working Saturday
- World Kindness Day
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- Perez, Shivaun, "Assessing Service Learning Using Pragmatic Principles of Education: A Texas Charter School Case Study" (2000). Applied Research Projects. Texas State University. Paper 76.