Student community service should be year-round

Published 9:24 pm Friday, November 25, 2011

By Robert Stephens
Guest columnist

Just in case you missed Sunday’s Suffolk News-Herald article on the topic of food giveaways, we wanted to share it and, on behalf of the Community Action Coalition (CAC), provide some additional “food” for thought.

What if community service was a year-round endeavor and goal of Suffolk High School Student Council Associations? What if organizations, the faith-based community and businesses provided opportunities for civic engagement and involvement throughout the year? What if students were called on more often to help a neighbor, perform a chore for an elder or run an errand? The answers are evident from the most recent response from high school students throughout Suffolk, whether they were helping with food distribution, collecting and distributing coats or sharing their performing and visual arts talents throughout the community.

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These demonstrable examples of civic engagement are evidence of students’ desire and interest in community service. Volunteer and community service opportunities provide a chance for students (and adults) to be a part of endeavors much larger than themselves. By example, the King’s Fork Student Council and other teenagers who participated in the Thanksgiving food give-away events gained an experience that will have an exponential and long-term positive impact on their abilities to share love and compassion with others.

Increased service opportunities for students will help add significant value to the community’s fabric by strengthening relationships, as well as change negative perceptions of teenagers and their socio-cultural existence. The benefit derived from helping organizations and businesses with community projects becomes a “quid pro quo” with significant value to the student and organization. In a note to the student volunteers from Sybil Bullock (LeOtis Williams food give-away coordinator), she wrote, “You all helped to make our endeavor a great success and we really appreciated all that you did. You all showed professionalism and great character.” Her statement clearly reflects the intent of the CAC to civically engage youth, thus helping them develop leadership skills and an appreciation for community service.

Great leaders first become good followers, and they learn to have ambition beyond their own personal self-interest. To that end, we encourage businesses, service organizations and other community-oriented groups to continue providing community service opportunities. Contact the high schools’ Student Council Associations and invite them into your service project, to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and help make civic engagement a year-round endeavor.

On behalf of the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk, we wish you a happy, blessed and safe holiday season.

Robert Stephens is the facilitator for the Community Action Coalition of Suffolk. Contact him at