At Keystone, we take our commitment to service seriously
“Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time, and always start with the person nearest you.”
– Mother Teresa
Tutoring children online in San Antonio so they don’t fall behind in their academic studies. Raising awareness around leukemia and lymphoma. Collecting foodstuffs, clothing, and toys for families in need at a variety of non-profit organizations around San Antonio.
These are just some examples of Keystone service projects that provide opportunities for students to help others. Whether through school activities or individual efforts such as tutoring children online in war-torn Ukraine, playing music for the elderly at assisted living facilities, serving food to homeless people on Thanksgiving Day, or creating bracelets to support refugees, our young people find ways to share their time and talents.
I thought about these and other forms of service a couple of weeks ago as I joined 7th and 8th grade students and other adult chaperones at the San Antonio Food Bank for a morning of preparing boxes for families experiencing food insecurity. While the music blared in the warehouse, we formed a rather efficient assembly line, and we also had fun. Students danced to music from the 1980s as they packed boxes; some of us adults who could remember the songs when they first came out even danced a bit. The half day provided an opportunity to spend time together away from school and experience the joy of aiding someone else.
That morning gave us a chance to live out a Keystone core value of service. Along with integrity, curiosity, creativity and empathy, it’s part of the new Cobra Code, which faculty and staff created back in August to make our four pillars of academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership more meaningful for students of all ages.
Each element of the Code is necessary for helping Cobras develop into good students and excellent human beings; however, none is sufficient on its own. In particular, service seems to bridge Keystone’s four pillars as children apply what they are learning in and out of class toward their communities, and come to understand that ethical behavior and responsible leadership go hand in hand. Candidly, as much as we do at school to teach students the importance of serving others, Keystone children and young adults are fortunate to come from homes where compassion toward others is such a formative family value.
Study after study has demonstrated the benefits for children and young adults of service. At a time in life when children and young adults can be rather self-centered, helping others can broaden one’s worldview and offer a sense of perspective. Maybe what a student is going through at that moment is not as bad as it might seem and in actuality, they may have it pretty good. Volunteering can improve children’s interpersonal skills as they interact with people outside of their immediate circle of friends and schoolmates, and provide practice in networking. It can even introduce young adults to possible areas of study or potential career paths.
Serving others can also be affirming and confidence-building particularly during a period in life when youngsters may be plagued by self-doubt or questioning their own efficacy. They can make a difference in the world and improve someone else’s life. When so much of their world is beyond their control, children and adolescents can have an impact and be an actor instead of a passive spectator. Some research has even suggested that volunteering during youth can lead to greater civic engagement later in life which may be more important than ever in these politically polarized times.
And yes, as we all know, volunteering looks good on a resume. This is neither the sole nor the most important reason to do it, but it doesn’t hurt. However, it’s probably more beneficial for students to find something they’re passionate about and involve themselves deeply in that area rather than flitting from one thing to another. College admissions officers are smart enough to see the difference between a young person’s true commitment to a cause and someone’s trying to game the system by jumping from one hot cause to another.
Every time I have had the good fortune to join with Keystone students and families in service, I left with a deep sense of joy and appreciation. Whether it was marching with others in the annual San Antonio MLK Walk or the LLS Light Up the Night Walk, the conversation has been rich and stimulating. Loading boxes at the San Antonio Food Bank or cleaning up and readying a playground in Brackenridge Park enabled me to laugh and joke with students while knowing we’re making a difference. Finally, pricing and preparing items so underserved children would have a present to open on Christmas morning proved to be both humbling and satisfying.
Through their service via school, home, houses of worship, or on their own, Cobras can learn what the musical artist Jana Stanfield meant when she said, “I cannot do all the good that the world needs. But the world needs all the good that I can do.”