Last Saturday morning, when she could have been sleeping in, Chastity Corona was up early raking leaves and pulling weeds. These are two chores the West High School senior cleverly avoids at home, but there she was - in somebody else's yard - working up a sweat.
As she tugged at the roots of a tree stump, Chastity was doing the very thing most adults assume most teenagers aren't capable of: stepping outside the self-absorption of their own world to become part of a bigger cause.Chastity was one of nearly 300 Salt Lake students who participated in the first proj-ect of the newly formed Mayor's Youth Volunteer Council - which is just one in a number of recent efforts aimed at encouraging teens to become involved in community service.
It may not be the full wattage of George Bush's famous thousand points of light, but both nationwide and in the Salt Lake Valley there is evidence that students are finding value in helping others.
At Highland High School, students have formed the HELP Club; at East they've started the Volunteer Corps. Most schools now have environmental clubs, where students organize recycling projects.
And, for every organized volunteer effort of a club or group, says Community Services Council director Rita Inoway, "there are probably 100 youths volunteering quietly on their own." At LDS Hospital, applications for junior volunteers are up this year over previous years.
Last weekend, working shoulder to shoulder with students from East, Highland and Judge Memorial high schools, as well as children from Jackson Elementary School, Chastity Corona and her friends helped spruce up a six-block area along 800 West - a neighborhood of fixed incomes and fading dreams, where sometimes the sprayed-on graffiti and unraked leaves just seem too overwhelming to the people who live there.
Around the corner, on a shaded side street, a dozen students cleaned up a transient camp that threatened to become a hazard to the neighborhood. Students unearthed layers of bottles and leaves and knit caps, hauled away a mattress and couch, and discovered a baby shirt and some baby food jars.
Like any good archaeologist, Becky Robinson of East High School looked around her and tried to understand it all in human terms. "I'm not going to complain about my house any more," she decided. "I'm not going to say I don't have everything I need."
Appreciating what they have is just one bonus of student voluntarism, say experts.
Kids who volunteer at nursing homes, food banks and animal shelters "become believers in what I believe," notes Irene Fisher. "That people can make a difference. They learn that they're part of a broader community, beyond their own world."
Fisher, a longtime community activist, is now director of the University of Utah's Lowell Bennion Community Service Center, which encourages student involvement. Voluntarism, she says, "is a critical ingredient for (America's) future. It has to go beyond people's jobs. . . . If we really want to have democracy work, it means we have to be a part of it."
While some states require that high school students perform a certain amount of community service (see the accompanying story), others see that as an oxymoron. Yet, locally, mandatory voluntarism of a different sort is proving effective.
Several Utah school districts, including Salt Lake City, Granite and Jordan, now allow students to do community service as a way of making up "unsatisfactory" citizenship grades (a requirement before a student can graduate). The schools often work with the Community Services Council, which hooks the students up with parks, hospitals and food banks.
"They complain at first," notes Highland High School citizenship secretary Claudia Scalley about students who are forced to do community service. "But once they've gone, they learn how good it feels to help someone else."
"I was mumble, grumble at first," admits Cottonwood High senior Stephanie Ford, who had to make up 200 hours of tardies and absences last year. But after several weeks as a volunteer at Alta View Hospital, Stephanie decided, "Hey, this is OK."
Even though she has finally worked off her 200 hours, she has continued to volunteer occasionally at the hospital and has decided to become a nurse.
Providing opportunities for voluntarism is one goal of the Youth Volunteer Council, a joint venture of the Salt Lake mayor's office and the U.'s Bennion Center.
"A lot of what was masking as apathy was a lack of knowledge of how to go about it," notes Fisher. "They just need a vehicle."
Highland High student Karee Grimmett, who raked leaves for three hours last Saturday at part of the Youth Volunteer Council's Adopt-Block project, agrees.
"I want to help do something, instead of just saying I should," she says. "I would do more if knew what to do."
The Youth Volunteer Council is planning two more projects during the school year - a kids' carnival and senior citizen dance.
"If we get kids involved," explains Bennion student project director Donald Dunn, "we hope it will be a lifelong commitment."
Volunteering by students moves toward trendiness
Student voluntarism, especially on college campuses, has become almost trendy. "It's the `in' thing to do," says Cesie Delve, director of Georgetown University's Volunteer and Public Services Center and author of "Community Service As Values Education." Delve points to groups such as COOL (Campus Outreach Opportunity League), active at colleges across the country.
On an even broader scale, the National and Community Service Act of 1990 - scheduled for President Bush's signature next week - will provide government impetus, and funding, for voluntarism, for everyone from kindergartners to the elderly.
A glitzier approach is "Star Serve," funded by Kraft Foods, the United Way and the Love Foundation, a program that will soon begin using celebrities to endorse student voluntarism.
In some states, most notably Minnesota, school districts are required to provide all schoolchildren with service opportunities, integrated into the curriculum. Some school districts even require a certain number of volunteer hours before a student can graduate. In Salt Lake City, only Judge Memorial High School has a similar requirement - 30 hours of "Christian service."
"We're trying to say to students that education is more than just isolating yourself and studying," explains principal John McGean.