(Obligatory) Freshman Service Day: Can A Mandatory Community Service Day Have Meaning?

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Anh Nguyen '17

On Wednesday, October 19, while many students took the PSATs and worked on college applications, the freshman class participated in Community Service Day. This was a great opportunity for freshmen to give back and to learn more about the local community. It enabled the students to bond with one another and develop new relationships built upon the common goal of making a difference in others’ lives. Additionally, community service day offered students the opportunity to put to good use those ideas discussed in Freshman Seminar: altruism, charity, goodwill, selflessness, and moral courage.

That morning, students were assigned to various groups based on Freshman Seminar classes. A number of service projects centered around the beautification of Windsor and the Loomis Chaffee Campus. Some students were given the opportunity to spend the morning raking leaves in Northwest Park, while others remained on campus clearing weeds with the agriculture program. In addition, a number of freshmen traveled to Pine Mountain and the Riverfront Recapture to provide their services for the morning. Students also engaged in service projects that strengthened their connection with the local community. For example, some students took part in arts and crafts activities with elderly residents at the Windsor Senior Center or Caring Connection, Windsor’s adult day center. Other service projects included visits to the Oliver Ellsworth School and the Windsor Public Library. There, Loomis Chaffee students read to children and organized books. Finally, those enrolled in Mr. Beck’s Freshman Seminar class visited Windsor’s Cat Connection where students groomed, fed, and played with many different breeds of cat.

There were certainly many positive aspects of this community service experience. However, some students took issue with what appeared to be the random assignment of each Freshman Seminar class to a particular community service project. It seems certain that many did not have the opportunity to participate in a community service project that they had a personal interest or connection to. For example, those who are passionate about nature may have been assigned to spend the day in the Windsor Public Library. Furthermore, those who enjoy caring for animals may have been assigned to participate in agriculture activity for the morning. Lacking the choice to participate in their preferred activity, many students failed to feel a personal connection to their service projects.

Others mentioned disappointment with the types of community service projects that were offered. Those students who remained on campus for the day felt that they had already given back to the school through their work jobs. Specifically, these students mentioned that they would have preferred to participate in a service project that benefitted the surrounding community and those in need. And although the goal of community service day is to demonstrate the virtues of altruism and philanthropy, these students mentioned that their experience felt more like an obligatory work job, rather than an opportunity to express their appreciation for the community.

Overall, Community Service Day was a big success and a meaningful experience. Many students made a great impact on the local community while also lending a hand on campus. However, I believe that in order to make the most of future Freshman community service days, it may be helpful to give students the opportunity to choose the service project that is of greatest interest to them. I find that individuals are greatly motivated when they feel a particular connection to a community service project. Additionally, I believe it would be beneficial to extend the projects away from campus to enable all freshmen to make their mark on the community. These changes will likely make Community Service Day even more enjoyable and worthwhile for all.