Margo Bartsch, College Essay Coach
Mahatma Gandhi inspired many with his philosophy, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” When applying to colleges, the Common Application includes Community Service as an Activity category. This does not require going to Belize to pick coffee beans; instead, getting involved in our local area shows connection to people and place. With the kick-off to the holiday season, now is the time to volunteer with local organizations that make an impact on our community.
The Rotary Club of Charlotte-Shelburne-Hinseburg has partnered with Gadue’s Dry Cleaning to collect, clean and distribute winter gear. Donations are needed for coats, boots, hats, gloves and mittens for children and adults.
There are blue collection bins at Spear’s Corner Store, the Charlotte Library, the Hinesburg Library, Shelburne Town Hall and the Shelburne Field House. Clothing is donated to local organizations that have made requests.
Students can take initiative by encouraging their sports team, club groups or local neighborhood to donate winter outerwear. This volunteer activity can be a bonding experience and become a future club tradition. Helping others can be part of the mission of any organization.
Another important community service opportunity is volunteering at local assisted living organizations. Each facility will likely have specific pandemic protocols to ensure safety for the residents. Senior citizens look forward to participating in activities with students. It provides an uplifting change of routine.
Volunteers can arrange with the program director a convenient time to engage with the residents. Some ideas include performing music (piano or other instruments), creating art projects, doing puzzles and having conversations. Showing kindness is a timeless gift to others.
For students who have academic interests in health care, education and psychology, this is a great opportunity to learn in a professional environment and engage with senior living residents. Supporting others in our local community can make a big difference in a person’s outlook and well-being.
Regardless of the time of year, helping our neighbors with basic needs is an ongoing concern. The Charlotte Food Shelf is a non-profit run entirely by volunteers. It provides food and assistance to residents of Charlotte and North Ferrisburg.
Students can drop off food at the Charlotte Congregational Church on Church Hill Road. The effort is also supported by Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church and the Charlotte community.
This organization aids with basic needs beyond food donations. It provides assistance for adult preventative dental care, emergency heating assistance, children’s assistance program and emergency assistance grants.
Beyond the Charlotte community, students can volunteer to become mentors at two Burlington organizations that specialize in youth. First, the King Street Center looks for Book Buddy volunteers to read for 45 minutes and to help with homework tutoring elementary, middle and high school students. All volunteers must be at least 16 years old.
Also, Spectrum Youth and Family Services has the mantra, “They don’t need a superhero. They just need a friend.” Mentor volunteers must be at least 21 years or older.
Spectrum requires that each mentor pass a background check and commit to spending four hours a month over two to four sessions for a minimum of one year. There is eight hours of required training to complete in one-to-two-hour increments.
With the college essays, community service can be fodder for compelling stories that share insights into a student’s values and time commitments. For example, the University of Michigan asks for a 300-word essay to respond to the prompt: “Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong and describe that community and your place within it.”
Colleges are building communities with diverse members with a range of interests to engage on campus and in the local towns. Volunteering is an opportunity to connect with people around us. Although it may be difficult to do something new for the first time, the lessons we learn can help pave the way for success in college and beyond.
Vermont is known as the “Brave Little State” from the speech President Calvin Coolidge gave in 1928 after a devastating flood in 1927. We are famous for helping our neighbors. There are many more volunteer opportunities to discover. Let’s make a difference together!
(Margo Bartsch founded College Essay Coach, a full-service college admission business, and has been an adjunct professor in business at Champlain College and at Middlebury College.)