How do you give back to those around you? This is a question that doesn’t often get asked, or even thought about by a percentage of college students. In between cramming for exams, trying to stay afloat in the social stratosphere that is college, and planning for your future, students tend to simply run out of hours in the day to give back. That’s not to say that everyone does, but let’s admit it, it’s not always in the foreground of our priorities. Work gets in the way, time slips by, and things just don’t work out. However, if the mood strikes you, and the time permits, I have to say that volunteering, both locally and abroad, is one of the most rewarding and beneficial activities that you can engage in as a college student.
There are a number of reasons to get involved in service, the most obvious being that you’re helping other people. However, that’s not always the first reason people get involved—and it doesn’t have to be. Volunteering is a life-long activity that can serve you physically, socially and mentally. You are physically bettering your community, making lasting relationships that can transfer well beyond service projects, and doing something good for yourself, while also helping others! What beats that?
All of these reasons are great—however, as well intentioned as service may be, these benefits may go overlooked as a result of how crammed and busy our college lives tend to be. This doesn’t make service any less desirable to get involved with, but it does make it trickier to “market” to college students. How can you convince students to give up time, energy and effort for a cause that doesn’t seem as relevant as Tuesday’s Biology exam? How can you showcase the wonderful and lasting impressions that service can make without overshadowing the real reason for doing the service in the first place? It’s a balancing act—you want students, and other volunteers to enjoy service, and have a good time, but also understand the depth of the activity, and the “whys” behind doing it in the first place.
With all of this being said, where and how can students and potential volunteers look to get involved? Is it better to go far away to help, or can you look in your own backyard?
My advice is to look at both! There are numerous trips and geographic areas that you can search for! You can choose to go far away, or stick to more locally based programs and projects. My school is on the smaller side and specializes in service trips—it’s one of the larger departments in our service office—so take these trips with a grain of salt or use them as a jumping off point for where you and your school could eventually travel to, or for projects you could eventually start!
Domestic Trips that get rave reviews—both on the “fun” scale and the impact that the students are able to make—are located all over the country. Over spring break, 40 students travel to Harlan, Kentucky located in the Appalachian Mountains. While there, the students stay in small log cabin. They not only make friends and memories, but also help to rebuild homes and neighborhoods in the local community. Students participate and work on full-scale construction sites with local carpenters, builders and technicians. The trip is rewarding for the community because they receive outside support and recognition for their hardship, however it is also rewarding for the students as they see how others live in this country, and experience first hand the importance of supporting and giving back.
Students also travel to reservations in Montana to work with and support children and communities. Another large project that students are involved with is an annual Habitat for Humanity trip. The location changes every year, however the students are able to engage in hands on work that benefits a family or community in need.
Other domestic, local projects you can look to get involved with are soup kitchens, local shelters, food banks, thrift stores, city clean ups, charity walks or events, or even rehabilitation centers, community centers, or after school programs. Any help or time you are willing to give is appreciated. Find a cause, or project that means something to you and search for ways to give back.
If you interested in volunteering abroad there other options. Some students take a year off and volunteer to travel the world to different countries, fulfilling different needs as they come along. Other students take trips to the Dominican, or to Central America. These trips require research and most likely, formal arrangements. Don’t let the restrictions deter you, just do your research and look for a program that fits your needs.
Volunteering can be special and rewarding. Not only will you make life-long memories, but also you will find an activity that you can participate in for years to come. The relationships and experience you gain for the simplest of service can change your outlook, and maybe even the time you have left at school!