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  • Mia Schlenker

Everything you need to know about Stevenson's day of service

The Stevenson student population has the privilege and the right of attending a private educational institution, but post covid, Stevenson faced the challenge of navigating how to serve the community safely, collaborating with both old and new organizations with which Stevenson is affiliated. The community service committee, Alyssa Clark and Eric Olson function as liaisons between the Stevenson community and local nonprofits to organize projects that invite both boarding and day students to participate in, which builds résumés and allows students to seek out philanthropies of choice that they are passionate about. Community service in the educational realm is essential because it allows students to learn skills that will translate to real-world applications and give them opportunities to contribute to their communities in a valuable way, but how does Stevenson facilitate community service both on and off campus?

Clark explains, “Community service to me means looking outwards and looking to see how you can use the gifts that you've been given and also the advantages…community service is giving our resources and expertise outside of ourselves.'' She later goes on to explain that post covid, Stevenson is trying to extend their reach outwards, and there are many students willing to be a part of outreach programs. Clark outlines some of the upcoming community service opportunities for students: “Recently, we are doing what's called breakfast in the park, which is headed by Ms. Nagashima, which is cooking food for houseless people on Friday nights, and on Saturday morning, there is a van that goes over and serves the houseless community.” Some of the other projects she mentioned were a haunted house with the Boys & Girls club, an opportunity with Meals on Wheels, the holiday advisory project, donations to women's shelters, and collaborative efforts with the environmental club and beach clean-up club. She adds, “We're hoping in the winter to offer an after-school activity that's just community service, so for those who don't want to participate in an organized sport, you can go and do community service twice a week.”

Stevenson’s late-September school-wide “community service day” sent students to various parts of the Monterey Peninsula to work with local nonprofits to clean up neighborhoods, parks, and Carmel beach. Though well intended, the degree of success the day garnered varied on the student's personal experience, as some feel that the day did not fulfill expectations.

Stevenson students photographed on service day. *Courtesy of the Stevenson Instagram.

Junior Phoebe Zeidberg recalls, “It felt kind of disingenuous and uncomfortable…I felt as though some of the places we chose to go or serve were not the most important in terms of our community.” She goes on to explain that some of her peers did feel as though they had accomplished something rewarding, but her personal experience was underwhelming and disappointing. She explains, “For my group, we picked up trash in a neighborhood. Because we were working in a community, it felt weird to be picking up other people's trash because it is a problem that should be addressed, but it's not going to be fixed without the support of the community.” She describes her impression of service day as patronizing to the communities and people being served for two outstanding reasons: attendance was mandatory, not voluntary, and her group was working on predominantly privately owned properties which made her feel as though she was unsolicitedly invading someone else's space. How would she amend the service day? “The same work could have been done in a beach or forest, and that would have felt more valuable, and I also feel as though we could have done more fundraising because that would be more helpful to some of these communities.”

*courtesy of the Stevenson Instagram. Stevenson students pictured on service day.

Phoebe's feedback on the service day draws attention to how the Stevenson administration and community respect the places it serves and whether or not events like service day perpetuate altruistic ideas, especially coupled with the “self-serving community service” Ted Talk that was shown before students were bussed off to their respective locations.

How does Stevenson address the irony of privileged students infiltrating lower-income neighborhoods without first acknowledging the citizens of those communities as self-sufficient and not solely recipients of our good deeds? Is service day inherently just a mere display of tokenism and media opportunity? How much are students educated and informed about the communities they are entering, and what are their takeaways, if any? What conversations did students have that enabled them to understand why the work they were doing was constructive or even wanted by local inhabitants? By failing to address these questions, Stevenson service day may have been as impactful as originally intended, but rather the result of issues and practices that inherently manifest themself in the overarching idea of community service itself.

Although Stevenson does provide its student body and faculty with the ability to aid its community, it does not have a community service requirement. The majority of public high schools in California require a minimum of 30 community service hours in order for students to receive a diploma, so why does Stevenson, a private institution with the means and platform to make a difference, not follow suit? In conversation with Sienna Barsotti, a co-leader of the community service committee, she weighs in on the matter: “I personally think that giving back to where we are is important, but it depends; a requirement could either make it feel forced or it could allow for more involvement. I think it just depends on the person and what we're trying to do is make it not more forced, and more so different parts of the world and community for students to participate in.” This raises the question of how to approach community service in a way where it is not an obligation but rather an outlet for students. By confining community service to one definitive task, to serve the community, often in a manual way, rather than viewing it as a facet to network and explore individual interests, we discount the value of community service to the self entirely. What volunteering provides is a space to broaden our lens on the world around us, both locally and otherwise, and educate ourselves on the needs of our community through collaboration and problem-solving.

At its root, the concept of volunteering is a good one; however, as a community, we need to reconsider how we approach community service to ensure that we are facilitating spaces and projects where everyone is able to feel involved, included, and gracious.


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