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Community Service: Are we talking about the same thing?

Sometimes we do things with the best of intentions and wind up with unintended results. I may have stumbled across one of these last week.

In a conversation with a friend we started talking about ‘community service’. To me, that phrase brings up thoughts of involvement in civic clubs and volunteering in community activities. From my perspective that means pleasant memories and many feelings of accomplishment. His perspective was different. A lot different. To him, and a growing number of younger people, the term ‘community service’ was akin to jail time. It was a form of punishment. How did that happen?

Our legal system has made community service part of their sentencing plan for many minor (and not so minor) infractions as an alternative to hefty fines or jail time. This is especially true when a younger person is involved. The hope is that this exposure to good works will have a positive effect on the person doing the service instead of the time. That’s a reasonable and well intended assumption but is it really turning out that way? Or do these people now equate ‘community service’ with punishment?

Same goes for school mandated community service. The intent of classes and clubs requiring community service is certainly motivated by a positive desire to expose young people to the benefits and impact that such involvement can have. But in many cases the service is a requirement. The idea of ‘volunteering’ isn’t part of the equation.

So today, when someone my age talks about ‘community service’, does this bring up a completely different and possibly unfavorable image for younger members of our audience? Are we even talking about the same thing?

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