By Niki Vaith
National Youth Leadership Council Youth Advisory Council

"Service" is a crazy word. You might think of service as serving food at a soup kitchen or visiting a nursing home once in awhile. You may think service is the word that requires you to get up and walk five miles to be a part of an organization. This type of service is called "charitable volunteering," and we need it to keep our nation strong.

I challenge all of you to be more than charitable volunteers. Volunteer where your heart is. Service is about learning, growing, and working together to meet genuine needs. Service is done to meet the needs of others, not to make you feel better. Never assume you know what’s best for someone else.

Service engages you in an activity: You could be learning a trade such as the proper way to paint the interior of a house, or growing culturally by working together with people from different backgrounds. While learning, you could be helping out. And true service should involve reflection, because it is only by reflecting on our actions that we learn. The service-learning I've performed over the past four years has helped me learn who I am.

Serve to learn. Serve to give back. But most importantly, serve to be an instrument of your gifts and talents, and to help where help is needed. It may be a new concept to some, but service is a two-way street. When you go into a service project, don't approach it with the idea that you're there to help “those people.” Enter the project knowing you are going to engage people and grow together. Only then can we do justice to the word service.

I want to share with you with the most inspirational words on service that I have ever heard …

If you want to be important — wonderful. If you want to be recognized — wonderful. If you want to be great — wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's your new definition of greatness. … By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. And you can be that servant. — Martin Luther King, Jr., "The Drum Major Instinct," delivered on February 4, 1968 , at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta , Georgia . - By Niki Vaith

I had a strong negative attitude towards completing any service-learning hours. My first thought was, "I'm going to have to do something boring", however my actual experience was far from boring. I helped out in Proyecto Voz through the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). I had a great time and met a lot of interesting people. The person I was most excited about meeting was a many by the name of Luis Gutierrez. He was a person in a high place of power, basically a representative of the Latino community. Based on the time I shared with him and the time I helped out editing the video, I learned so much more about the Latino Americans living in the U.S. and what difficulties are really out there for people who are illegal aliens and are looking for work. I have to say that my attitude towards the service-learning that we do has changed because it is greatly beneficial to us in more ways than one. It has showed me that there is much more out there that I can learn, and that there are many ways to learn them.

I wonder if the school did not offer this type of opportunity for us to go out and get first hand experience, to actually talk to people, if I would ever have done something like this. I mean politics interests me but if nothing would have made me go out and find something, then I don't think I would have done it. I am grateful that the school makes the students do this because whether the student knows it or not, they are benefiting from the experience and are walking away with something special that they can use in the future. I know I was hesitant in the beginning, but now I know I'm definitely going to do internships in college.

    Jones College Prep

"I have learned so much this past semester in Future Leaders Colloquium. Not only about libraries, the Dewey decimal system, and how to plan a ceremony… but more about me, my community, and others will disabilities. I came into this colloquium not knowing what to expect. When I first heard about the library project, I was very excited to become part of it and start working. However, I was a little doubtful it would go through. It seemed like such a huge task to take on, and like everyone says, "we're just teenagers."

But we did it! All those hours spent rummaging through books, cataloguing them, alphabetizing the shelves, and arranging everything to be ready for the big night paid off. I have so much respect for librarians right now. Even at this stage after the ceremony, there is still so much to do. But I am very glad to have gotten to work with everyone that helped at the library, including the Vaughn students.

Those Vaughn students taught me so much more that I ever would have thought, or that they will ever know. We always seem to look down upon them; we think that they are handicapped, not as smart as us, and are part of a totally different world than us. However, upon my initial meeting with them, I couldn't even tell them apart from our own Northside students.

I share several common interests with those kids. Many of those hours working in the library were spent talking about B2K, dancing, cars, and sports. I was amazed that I was able to talk to them as if they were my own best friends, and we were all a group of friends working to get this great project done.

Their dedication and optimism really had an effect on me. No matter what they were asked to do, they did it… diligently and without complaints. They were a great complement to us. We worked together well and got a lot of things done. Something I never would have expected from kids that I used to think were "lower" than us.

And as one team… not two schools, not one rich school helping a poorer one, but one team… we built a library. It could not have happened without each of the people that were there each week, willing to work hard with a smile on our faces.

I've realized that those students are just like us. They have the same opinions as us, like the same things, and act the same way. There is so much more to each person than their disability; something most of us fail to look past. That's what this colloquium helped me do. I was able to look past the outer covering, past their disability, past the rumors that I heard about them… and see the teenager, the fun-loving hard-working student inside.

I am so happy that I was able to give them something that has been a part of my life since I was small, and I often took for granted. I realize now that they deserve all things that I have, and more. Even after this project is over, I hope to stay in touch with them, visit them every once in a while, and maybe even read a few books in their new library.

This colloquium has offered me numerous opportunities to learn more about myself and open that door to the world. Instead of staying inside my sheltered home in the north side of Chicago, I have been blessed with the chance to give as much my fortunate life to others. I know that from now on I will keep this door open, and continue learning about the world outside my front door."

    Northside College Prep, Future Leaders Colloquium

"I learned a lot from tutoring kids, how to be more patient and understanding. I felt like I was actually doing something proactive for the community, helping kids how to learn better."

    Senn Metropolitan Academy

"I learned that with just a couple hours you can make many people happy."

    Senn Metropolitan Academy

"From this project I have learned that Service Learning is important because it helped me go outside in the world and explore new things."

    Senn Metropolitan Academy

"Through all the service Learning hours I have done, I've learned many things. A few of the things that I learned were that if there is a problem there is always a way you can help to get closer to the solution, if the solution seems hard to reach. Another thing I learned is that when you do Service Learning hours, no matter what it is you do, you are helping the community that you are in. After a day of volunteering/doing Service Learning hours, it feels great to come home and think about what you just did that day, whom you helped out, how many people you helped out, and if you made a difference in some people's lives that day. It feels great to know if you have changed someone's life in some way from bad to good."

    Prosser Career Academy

"Ever since I was a freshman, I have continually been hearing counselors, teachers, and parents, telling students, "You must complete 40 hours in order to graduate." At first I really did not think much of it. Honestly, I thought it was a waste of time and a technique by the Board of Education used to add more stress on students. Freshman year passed, and I had no intention of completing my Service Learning hours, but once I began my sophomore year my opinion on the subject changed drastically. My most memorable experience during Service Learning was this year, when my shop teacher asked me to help him tutor some students during my lunch period. I was very honored by this proposition. I thought it would be a great opportunity to gain more knowledge when it came to working with people. The first day was difficult. I was so used to being the student in class. The challenge came when he assigned me to work with three students. I was in shock when I found out these students were not just any students; they were special education students who needed extra help and guidance. At first it was very difficult, each and every one of them were very different. I had to use different tactics when teaching them. Not all of them responded in the same manner, for some it took longer to decipher the information. It was very rewarding to seem them learn and improve their drafting skills.

It is very ironic when I look back and see that at first I was 40 Service Learning hours as a burden, and now I see it as a rewarding experience. Now, I completely understand why it is called Service Learning, because I sure did learn valuable things that I will take with me when I graduate from high school."

    Prosser Career Academy

"When I first entered Prosser, I heard that every student had to do 40 Service Learning hours. When I heard that, I thought that it would be boring doing these hours, but I was wrong. At Lloyd, I had a lot of fun doing my 40 Service Learning hours. When I was doing my hours at Lloyd, I learned many things I did not know about before.

For example, I learned that teaching young kids can be very pleasant or can also be very difficult. Luckily, the students I tutored were very nice and were willing to try their very best in order to learn. I helped the kids to read, spell, and also solve math problems. Teaching the kids how to read and spell can be very difficult, but eventually the kids that I taught learned and that was very satisfying.

I found that teaching young kids how to solve math problems is very easy, especially teaching addition and subtraction. The only thing that the students need to do in order to learn and make what they learned stay in their head is to practice how to read, spell and solve problems in their houses and to practice every single day, especially in school. If the students do this, then they will be smarter and they will have greater opportunities throughout their lives.

Doing my 40 Service Learning hours, the most important thing that I learned is that teaching is the most important job in America. Without teachers every little boy and every little girl would not have the education that is needed to succeed in their lives. Over the last few days I have developed more respect for my teachers because now I know that teachers push students so that we benefit from it in the future because all their work is for our own personal benefit.

I also know that doing Service Learning hours was not a bad thing because I enjoyed doing these hours and it was a good thing. I enjoyed helping kids gain knowledge. I first thought that doing this project did not make any sense but I think I know what the purpose for assigning this project was. In my opinion the purpose for this project was to give students an understanding and knowledge of life in the real world. This project was very beneficial to me and I hope that other students learn what I learned during my service learning hours. If they learn at least a little bit of what I have learned they will also appreciate people and our community more."

    Prosser Career Academy