EDUCATION MATTERS: Saying thanks and giving back

By Marsha Sutton


As we enter into my favorite time of year — the weeks between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays — we start by giving thanks and being grateful, and move into the season of giving back and helping others.

And, as always, I am struck by the amount of charity work members in our communities actually do.

A recent issue of the Carmel Valley News featured a remarkable number of stories on local residents working for nonprofits doing community service and offering a helping hand to others in need. One issue alone contained the following stories:

  • Advocates for Injured Athletes is an organization that helps young athletes injured in sports navigate required medical services and connect with others who have experienced similar traumas.
  • A profile on the winner of the Spirit of Giving Award was presented by an organization working to raise money for United Cerebral Palsy centers.
  • A businesswoman donates a percentage of the proceeds from her new food product to Human Touch Projects to help orphanages worldwide.
  • A recent Torrey Pines High School graduate founded Everything’s Gonna Be OK, a nonprofit that helps young adults in developing countries by providing vocational and educational training.
  • Boutiques for a Cause organizes fundraising fairs and boutiques for charities or schools and has vendors donate a portion of their proceeds to that charity.
  • A grant given by the Del Mar Foundation to a local school to plant and grow an organic garden advances education.
  • National Charity League’s volunteer efforts help the San Diego Humane Society.
  • An effort to collect books for donation to local school libraries benefits children.
  • San Diego Jewish Academy’s 5K Run/Walk on Thanksgiving morning raises funds for the San Diego food pantry.
  • Surfrider Foundation sponsors a beach clean-up morning.
  • A fundraiser for Conner’s Cause for Children raises money for families struggling to care for very sick children.

And that was just one issue of the paper. Every week, there are stories featuring many residents — both children and adults — who give generously of their time and money by engaging in volunteer efforts and community service that benefit nonprofits and the needy from Carmel Valley to Afghanistan.
These are people who participate in breast cancer walks, cook at Mama’s Kitchen, spend hours volunteering in local schools and libraries, work without pay for educational and medical foundations, give of their talent to people in need of emotional support and social services, feed the homeless in food lines, donate clothing to battered women’s shelters, drive senior citizens to doctors’ appointments, pick up trash along trails and bike paths, campaign for animal rights ... and on and on the list goes.

Some even start their own foundations and nonprofits, when they recognize a need or a cause that isn’t being served and has fallen through the cracks.

Student volunteers

High school students represent a large part of the community service energy — although admittedly, the catalyst for some is the need for community service hours for college applications. But for other kids, the caring is genuine and heartfelt, and continues long after that college acceptance letter has been received.

At Canyon Crest Academy, a high school of 1,800 students, there are

96 student-run clubs and organizations

– everything from A Helping Hand which raises money and collects donations for a variety of charities, to the Youth Care Club, which provides less privileged children with opportunities for learning.

Other notable projects at CCA, all formed or led by students, with teacher-advisers to assist, include the following:

  • X-Slaves fundraises for orphans in Uganda.
  • Someone Like Me provides assistance for local foster children.
  • Soldiers Project supports therapists who assist soldiers fighting in Iraq.
  • Save Sudan Club raises awareness of the atrocities committed in Sudan.
  • Political Activists Club promotes involvement in addressing the problems impacting the nation.
  • Music Moves performs for audiences that can’t afford concerts or aren’t regularly exposed to live music.
  • Media Discussion Club discusses the media’s impact on today’s youth.
  • Givology promotes international education.
  • Friendly Faces Going Places helps students break down social barriers.
  • Feeding America Club organizes food drives for the hungry.
  • Body Aloud promotes healthy body image.

Torrey Pines High School, with its 2,500 students, also has a
lengthy list of service organizations and clubs

, 164 at last count, that are student-run. Many of the clubs focus on the needy among us — the forgotten, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, the poor, the abused.

Not all high school clubs are so serious. There are also clubs for each particular sport and for interests like science, engineering, math, robotics, dance, chess, Rubik’s Cube, hiking, creative writing, geography, origami, environmentalism, Latino culture, poetry, speech and debate, surfing, marine biology and many more — from the frivolous to the fantastic.

These are kids whose energy and idealism are the fuel that keeps our collective social consciousness in high gear even when times are tough.

Research on community service

The National Center for Education Statistics

offers some interesting data on volunteerism during and after high school years.

A 2003

NCES report

notes that many schools have established programs that promote student community service, because it is widely viewed as “beneficial to the individual as well as society.”

Through volunteering, the report reads, “individuals can take responsibility for their community, learn to understand the conditions that other people face, and appreciate the value of community participation.”

Research suggests that students who engage in community service “tend to have stronger ties to schools, peers and the community.”

The study revealed that 50 percent of females were more likely to volunteer in high school, compared to 38 percent of males. Sixty percent of students from high socio-economic backgrounds were likely to volunteer, compared to 41 percent of students from middle-class families and 28 percent from low-income households.

The study also found that young adults were less active volunteers after high school: 44 percent of high school students performed charity or community service work, while only 33 percent did so eight years later.

About 47 percent of white high school students were likely to volunteer, compared to 38 percent Hispanic and 36 percent African-American. Eight years later, the numbers changed significantly, with 41 percent of African-Americans more likely to volunteer, compared to 32 percent white and 31 percent Hispanic.

Forced volunteerism, an oxymoron if ever there was one, has its risks, the report states. Requiring community service for course credit, grades or college admittance may cheapen the value of the community service and reduce future interest in volunteering.

Although many teens move away from volunteering after high school, there is some evidence that teaching the importance of community service in children when they are young stays with them and often emerges later in adulthood.

Sadly, this has been a time of great hardship for charities, which are suffering greatly despite the relentless efforts of generous teens and adults who don’t let up, no matter the economic conditions.

Reports of foundations, charities and goodwill organizations drying up or going into debt this past year are too numerous to count. Homeless shelters, food pantries, animal welfare groups, educational foundations, the arts — all have been impacted by an abysmal year defined by economic recession, massive unemployment and record home foreclosures.

And yet, with countless charities and nonprofits struggling to survive, we can be proud that so many of our neighbors have never stopped caring. Reaching out and giving back is a way of expressing gratitude for all we have and is a natural extension of Thanksgiving blessings.

The comfort this generosity of spirit provides others is tremendous, but the reward the charitable derive from within is immeasurable.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at: