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Beyond the Hours: Service as a Lifetime Commitment ~ Katelyn

“We’re put here to serve, not to be served.” A man named Ted who I interviewed for a local newspaper said those words, and they’ve stuck with me ever since. A lifetime member of my city’s Kiwanis Club, he viewed community service as a duty. He had devoted his Fourth of July morning to helping out with a Kiwanis-sponsored kiddie parade. Despite it being a holiday and swelteringly hot, he seemed happy to devote his time to his community, and hoped others would do the same. And he didn’t do it because he had to or because he wanted to make himself look better, but because he genuinely wanted to help people.

It was after hearing those words that I began to think deeper about service and its place in my life. I realized that I too find fulfillment in serving my community and hope to serve others as much as possible throughout my life. Serving others, not only through community service but through one’s career, parenthood, and acts of kindness, is a uniquely rewarding experience. It’s these acts of selflessness that we need more of in this world.

Throughout my life, my grandmother told me that all she ever wanted was to care for other people. She married young, had a family, and became a nurse. Every day she would cook, clean, and raise her four boys, and every night she’d go to work and care for patients in the hospital. Growing up, I wondered how that could be her dream. How could she put her own needs aside and have the energy to love and care for that many people? As I grow older, I still marvel at the sheer amount of selflessness she had in order to do that. But I finally understand why she wanted that for herself.

When she told me, “I have everything I could want”, she truly meant it. There’s an odd satisfaction in helping others and making their lives better. But seeing the fruits of her efforts—four well-adjusted children, eight grandchildren, and one great-grandchild—made that sacrifice worth it. Parenthood and nursing were her ways of serving others. It was something she felt called to do, and for her, it was a fulfilling experience. That principle of caring for and serving others through sacrifice is something that we could all aspire to, parents or not. Because our world is always in need of more love.

Parenthood and careers such as nursing are both huge commitments, but serving others could be as simple as a traditional service project or even an act of kindness. One of the most memorable acts of kindness I’ve experienced involved that interview with Ted where I was given those wise words about service. Beyond his dedication to Kiwanis and their charitable activities, he also turned his hobbies into acts of kindness. With an affinity for woodworking, he’d given me a whole collection of pun-themed wood carvings, taking great joy as he unveiled each one. “Do you know those white elephant gift exchanges?” he asked, quickly handing me a carving of a small white elephant. He then gave me  a brown “E” (brownie!) and a box containing 3 corn kernels (a 3-piece chicken dinner!). He told me to keep them all. “But you have to give them to someone else,” he said with a smile. “That’s the fun of it.”

That encounter stuck with me long after I went home and wrote up the article.  It was such a simple gesture, but it’s something that I’ll recall for the rest of my journalism career. The man found happiness in making my day a little brighter, watching my face light up with amusement and joy. He simply enjoyed the act of giving and passing on his kindness to others.

Our world would be a much better place if everyone was like that—giving without asking for anything in return, helping others just to see them smile. That’s something that everyone is capable of doing, whether you surprise a friend with a gift or hold the door for a complete stranger. No matter how small the gesture, it matters.

Despite the overwhelmingly positive impacts of service, often we lose sight of why it’s important in the first place.

To the average high schooler, service is purely quantitative. We view it in hours, minutes, and seconds, each digit representing time taken out of our busy schedules. To us, every service opportunity is just an hour closer to our graduation requirements or NHS service quota. It’s simply a means to an end. And in this self-centered view, we lose something very important: the humanity behind our service.

Oftentimes we forget service is about serving others. Service shouldn’t end when we’ve garnered enough hours; it should be a constant, lifetime commitment. It should be about all of the people you help and the difference you make. It should be about the mark your service makes on the world.

So make a commitment to serving others. Do a service project for fun. Complete an act of kindness. Make someone smile. Go out of your way to help someone even when it isn’t convenient for yourself. Because it might just be the most rewarding journey of your life and change someone else’s!

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