Stay in MarIN to make a difference

Sarah Young

Scrolling through my Instagram feed this summer, I saw plenty of students on overseas service trips taking photos with orphaned kids or cleaning up beaches. But how much do these service trips really do? Expensive service trips entice many students by promising travel and new experiences, but most don’t help the foreign country or the native people enough to justify the cost or the title “service trip.” Additionally, most students who attend these trips are doing it in hopes of boosting their college applications and getting into their dream schools. But, compared to these trips, community service at home is an invaluable way to give back to your own community. It provides volunteers of all ages a chance to help others and learn how to be a better person; the best way to make a positive impact on the world is to start helping right here in Marin.

Olivia Greenberg, a senior at Redwood, started volunteering in Marin the summer before her freshman year. Greenberg volunteers with Make a Splash, a nonprofit organization created by the USA Swimming Foundation to teach underprivileged kids how to swim. This was her fourth summer volunteering for the organization where she taught swimming lessons and educated kids about the risks of drowning. Doing this service in Marin has had a huge impact because Greenberg can spend all summer helping hundreds of kids, compared to volunteering for just one or two-weeks if she had chosen to do service abroad. The money spent on the plane fare and the cost of the service trip is much better put to use in our own community.

“There are a lot of problems here in our own backyard, so it’s definitely better to improve where we live before we spend money to help other places,” Greenberg said.

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According to the College Recruiter, volunteering and service hours is on average the fourth most important factor considered when making college admission decisions. While this fact seems to rush most students out of Marin and overseas to do their service, working in your community is also part of volunteering. Service hours at home will be more impactful and thoughtful compared to a few rushed hours overseas, and colleges will see that. According to Brooke Hanson, a college tutor, universities want someone who is dedicating a lot of time consistently to something they care about.

“You don’t need an expensive program to improve your application over the summer but you do need to find some way to spend your time that enriches your passions and shapes your personal perspective,” Hanson stated.

According to the National Education Longitudinal Study, which followed a group of eighth graders for 20 years, students who were more engaged in their community and spent time volunteering locally did better in certain school subjects, cultivated connections with people and organizations they otherwise wouldn’t have, and gained an attachment to their community.

Redwood sophomore Jason Stinnett has also taken the initiative to help out around home and gain these important skills. Stinnett is an active Boy Scout and through the program he consistently pursues community service activities. His troop has worked at Redwood and around Marin volunteering at cleanups and shelters. Last year, Stinnett worked at the Audubon Center in Tiburon every Thursday, pulling weeds and cleaning up trash. In Marin, Stinnett and the Boy Scouts are working to fix issues through community service.

“When I work in my community, I really get to see the difference. I know this area better, and I can help out here more so than in any other community,” Stinnett said.

Volunteering anywhere is always a good use of time and energy, but people should contribute their time locally before emptying their pockets to volunteer abroad. Working at home is a consistent, committed effort whose long-term impacts are evident whereas on a service trip, the effort might only have temporary benefits. While many students are always busy and don’t have much time or energy, just a few hours every week or month makes a huge difference when you can see the results of your work in your own community. College admissions will also recognize the dedication it takes to continue working at home, and how much more of an impact it has. It leads to lifelong lessons, new experiences and connections that are far better than a few weeks on a service trip. And being able to spend that money on people who need it at home is far more beneficial than a trip for yourself. There are so many opportunities to help out around Marin, and so many benefits for the people who do.