The ReachOut blog has recently been transformed into a hotspot for discussion on the roles, benefits and meanings of community service and service learning. The discussions began with a Boston Globe piece from February 1st entitled Volunteering spirit catches fire; Young Adults donate time, embrace the chance to give back. The article chronicled the rise of Young Adult volunteer involvment, making the point that “there’s increasing evidence that commitment to community service is becoming much more ordinary to today’s young adults.”  Here at ReachOut we see this evidence on a daily basis; we currently have 67 volunteers engaging in service through our program!

The debate got started when an interesting letter to the editor from February 9th questioned the legitimacy of these volunteers and asked where the role of service learning falls. Michael Jacoby Brown wrote, “your article focuses on the many positive aspects of volunteer work; however, it leaves untouched important questions about the consequences and learning that result from this upsurge in ‘service learning.’’’

ReachOut participants Darya Mattes and Brian Schon responded to these questions with two unique views. Brian takes issue with the letter to the editor, writing “the writer implies that since many service volunteers lack expertise in respective service fields that they are somehow not qualified to serve, and that because their work yields satisfaction, they are somehow not altruistic.” To read more of Brian’s piece, click here.

Darya’s reaction examines Brown’s letter to the editor in a different way. She begins by stating, “I share Michael Jacoby Brown’s concern about young people who volunteer without considering the root causes of poverty and inequality. However, he conflates “service learning” and “community service” in his letter. In fact, service learning, when done well, is an effort to address the very issues he raises.” Darya agrees that the volunteer experience must go one step further.

The ReachOut program incorporates service learning into our experience. We ask our participants to examine not only what they have learned about themselves, but to also consider the larger issues at play.  The philosophy of our service learning is echoed in Darya’s statement that “service learning invites volunteers to take the next step and imagine a world where their service would no longer be necessary. In doing so it has the potential to change the lives of service recipients and volunteers for the better”.