January 20, 2018

The 5 WHYs of Community Service

I believe there are five reasons why you should want to get involved in community service as a college student. I got involved in serving my community early in life, stuck with it through college and still serve to this day. It’s why I’m passionate about my Building Leaders Through Service® program for college students and why I stepped up to be National Director of APCA Serves. It’s why you should encourage your students and classmates to get involved. Here are five whys that I hope will motivate you to help others less fortunate that yourself.

Dave Kelly - The 5 whys of community service

Students volunteering at APCA Serves

1) Servant leadership instills a life-time commitment to serving others.

My daughter Amanda was introduced to community service through my Circle K involvement. At the age of six, she participated with me at a health fair for the local children’s hospital. The next year, she started the “Secret Service Club” at her elementary school. It was a group of students who worked to keep the grounds clean of garbage. She continued to be involved with service, was elected to the student council in elementary school, and joined service groups while in middle and high school. When she was 16, we started going on mission trips with our church to St. Lucia. She has a real love for the people of that country and the work that goes on there.

This is the type of commitment that I see over and over again from students who are involved in community service. Wouldn’t you be proud to be sending graduates of your school out all over the world, serving others and spreading the values they learned from your programs? These leaders will be making a difference for many years to come, changing their world and ours!

“I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” – Mahatma Gandhi

2) Involvement in community becomes a natural component of your life.

I spoke at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy a few years ago. After my program, one of the cadets took me on a tour of the campus. As we walked around, I noticed that she would pick up pieces of trash. She was really observant, because I never even saw them! After a while, I asked her if she was expected to do this, if it was part of the honor code for the cadets.

“No,” she replied, “I just do this on my own. I figure if I pick up one piece of trash every day, there will be 365 less pieces of trash in the world each year.” For her, it was a natural thing to do. If you get your students involved in community service, then servant leadership will become a natural part of who they are.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa

3) You’ll develop leadership skills through service learning.

By involving yourself  in community service as a student, you’ll learn leadership lessons you can’t get anywhere else. (It’s called servant leadership.) I feel as though I learned as much or more from my community service co-curricular involvements than I did in my classes! Over the years that I was an advisor for Circle K International, I often shared this view at new club charter banquets. Most of the college presidents and other leaders in attendance would always agree that service learning is hands-on learning experience that lasts a lifetime.

In his book, Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness, Robert K. Greenleaf wrote: “The servant-leader is servant first…It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

“Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

4) Community service provides value and benefit to campus organizations while enhancing the individual student’s educational experience.

Campus organizations that involve themselves in community service, true service, provide a real opportunity for their members. Members get to serve others, providing them with positive experiences. They can see results and the experience becomes part of the background of their education. It enhances their critical thinking skills and their understand of the connection between actions and results.

The service has to be meaningful though. I was a member of an honor society in college and we were required to do three projects per year: 1) community or campus service; 2) a cultural activity; and 3) a social activity. So, once a year, we would volunteer to be ushers at a campus play, stay to watch the play, and then go out for pizza afterwards. All three goals accomplished in one meaningless activity that really was of benefit no one but us. See ya next year! Make sure the students are involved, not just going through the motions to meet a campus requirement. Tell them to get their hands dirty and participate, not just sit on the sidelines.

When I was Circle K International President, I went out to a day of service near Los Angeles. While I was raking leaves and digging up weeds at the home of an elderly person, I saw the local chapter and state leaders leaning on a car chatting and laughing. I admonished them for their lack of hands-on involvement and got them to help with the work. Make sure everyone in your group – from newbies to leaders – participates in the service activities!

“I believe…that every human mind feels pleasure in doing good to another.” – Thomas Jefferson

5) Service learning programs can provide demonstrable results to your campus administration, particularly in light of diminishing programming and campus activities dollars.

Community service doesn’t cost much, if anything and it’s a valuable commodity in these days of limited resources. You can also see the results. You can count the number of service hours performed by your students. You can ask them to write blogs or essays on their experiences. They can Facebook and Tweet about what they have learned. Community service gives you tangible results that you can show to those who oversee your departments and approve your budgets.

Here’s the thing: would you rather show successful service results or have to explain why you had a foul-mouthed comedian on your campus who contributed absolutely nothing to your student’s educational experience?

“It’s not about what you have or what you’ve accomplished. It’s about who you’ve lifted up and made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.” – Academy Award® Winner Denzel Washington

Series Navigation<< Creating a “Day of Service” on Your CampusA Day of Service at Georgian Court University >>
About the Author: Dave "Gonzo" Kelly (64 Posts)

Dave Kelly is the leading authority on student leadership and community service on college campuses today. As a professional trainer, motivator, and servant leader, Dave is an expert on all aspects of running and leading campus organizations and developing the character of a servant leader. Dave has 20+ years training leaders and advisors from student government associations, campus activities boards and campus clubs of every kind on organizational leadership and community service projects. He has trained students and advisors at more than 150 different colleges and universities and is the national coordinator for the APCA Serves! Initiative by the Association for the Promotion of Campus Activities.


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  1. […] a previous post, I discussed “The 5 whys of community service.” Now the questions that remains is HOW do you get students involved in service to others? […]

  2. […] experience and resume-building material. If you don’t believe me just check out Dave Kelly’s “Building Leaders Through Community Service” post series. Kelly gives the ins and outs of why you should participate in community service and […]

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