Monday, September 8, 2003

Youths get hooked on volunteer service

It becomes its own reward

By Sara Thomas
Enquirer contributor

WEST CHESTER TWP. - Lisa Lepper knows teen volunteers who build houses, stock pantry shelves, work at soup kitchens, or stay in primitive conditions on mission trips.

And, most of the time, it's not because of a school requirement and it's not for the praise. It's simply for the service.

"I think youth really have a desire to know their life makes a difference to somebody else," said Lepper, of West Chester, who spends a lot of time with teen volunteers as youth minister at St. Mary Church.

She knows that graduation requirements or a desire to show service on college applications are why some teens begin to serve. But Lepper encourages teens to decide whether "(service is) a drudgery, are you just getting your hours in, or are you called to something more?"

Through her involvement with the Franklin Area Community Services and St. Vincent DePaul, Lepper often sees that teens are called to "something more."

"A lot of the youth, once they do it, they're hooked," said Lepper. "It's just part of their soul."

That's what happened to Shea Schlachter , a senior at Carlisle High School in Warren County. She got involved with community service through St. Mary about a year ago and has been volunteering at the food pantry for Franklin Area Community Services and St. Vincent dePaul.

"(I want to) help out, do my share," she said.

She plans to eventually volunteer on a more personal level and have more contact with individuals in need.

Helene Kriner, director of guidance and college counselor at Lakota East High School , also sees teens get hooked on serving others. Kriner said that while community service does look good on an application, it is "more of a tie-breaker" and can't be substituted for grades or test scores. Kriner said more selective institutions often look "more at the whole student."

Service is not required to graduate from Lakota East. However, community service is a large part of the grade in the required government class. Kriner often sees students begin community service through the class or "as a resume builder," and then continue simply because they want to.

But for students like Schlachter, "It just makes me feel better as a person," she said. "I like to be able to say I did something that maybe helped somebody."

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