Ann Arbor Volunteers…for Themselves

Kerry Fingerle

I had a great Thanksgiving. My extended family spent a sentimental evening at my house and we all enjoyed a delicious meal together. I thus far have eaten half of my weight in leftovers. I’d say it was a pretty successful holiday.

Thanksgiving, a holiday that’s built around our once admirable relationship with the Native Americans, is a time which allows us to reflect on what we’re thankful for–because, believe it or not, we actually do need a holiday for that. I’d like to think we all took special notice to the people and things we sometimes take for granted, and realize how lucky we truly are. But as I sat at my dining table with my family, I thought about the people that aren’t sitting in a warm house with their family and a wonderful meal.

Now, how very saint-like of me to devote my time on Thanksgiving to thinking about those less-fortunate than myself. That must mean I’m a selfless, Ann Arbor high-school student, who would love nothing more than to spend my free time volunteering at any of the hundred charities in the area. Prestigious university, here I come (sarcasm included).

I’m being a little stereotypical, I have to say, but I’m growing increasingly annoyed with the high-school students who volunteer, or do other extra-circulars, to impress colleges. As a college-bound junior in high school, I, along with the good majority of my friends, am worrying about the “extra-factor” for colleges. What will make me look different from the hundreds of thousands of other well-educated teenagers applying to college? One of the many solutions: volunteering. A great addition to any college app, that, if done in depth, will make you look selfless and involved in your community.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing, on paper. And I suppose, if the volunteering gets done and someone, other than yourself, benefits from the work, I can’t complain (but I’m stubborn, and I’m going to complain anyway). It seems to be that we’re doing volunteer work/community service to appeal to colleges, and, in a typical Ann Arbor fashion, to uphold our own reputation of being “the teenager who does all the volunteer work.” I hate to think we’ve come to the point in society where we’re volunteering for ourselves. Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

Oh the Ann Arbor way of life. It’s kind of a bubble, and we love living inside of it, but it’s so easy to get lost in this accepting, diverse hullabaloo. As a disclaimer, I’m being extremely general. There are exceptions to what I’m saying, of course, and there are teenagers in Ann Arbor that enjoy volunteering. They volunteer for the right reasons. And I think we pride ourselves in that, rightfully so, but it’s exaggerated. I love you Ann Arbor, but our underlying sense of entitlement is getting a little old.

So here is my challenge to you, Ann Arbor teenagers. In the spirit of Thanksgiving and the upcoming New Year, think about why you volunteer. Are you passionate about the field you’re volunteering in? What do you get out of volunteering? Why do you spend three nights a week at the Neutral Zone? If you volunteer because you genuinely want to help other people, then bravo. You’ve overcome the Ann Arbor-way-of-life.