2016 Essay Contest Winners

Winner
Connor Yablonski

from Deerlake Middle School

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –  Margaret Mead

 

In this quote is the ideal of the American spirit. The United States is a country that relies on honest, hard-working citizens, and welcomes all with those principles. What Margaret Mead said has proven to be true time and time again in all communities, big and small. Community service is the idea that we can rely on citizens to take charge and do the right thing for the right cause. This has kept communities strong by giving good people who want to help a chance to contribute. Whether it be picking up trash off a city street, helping a local food drive, or joining the PTO, volunteering can reach anything and help anyone.

Community service can take many forms. Throughout my middle school career, I volunteered with many organizations, but all had one thing in common. All were helping their communities. One of the first organizations I volunteered for was the Second Harvest of the Big Bend, which collects food for low income families that need a helping hand. Every month in our area, more than 44,000 people are given food by Second Harvest, one-third of whom are children, and 11% are seniors. Acts like these are what make a community thrive. The Second Harvest helps families get on their feet again so they can contribute to the community. To help, I collected canned goods to donate. I then decided to get my hands dirty and volunteered to pick vegetables at one of Second Harvest’s farms. There citizens recognize the need to fight hunger in our community and the vital role fresh food plays in these efforts.

Another community changing cause I worked for was Tallahassee Big Dog Rescue. This organization takes pets without a home and pairs them with compatible people without pets. This organization helps two members of our society: animals and people. These committed volunteers are advocates for abused and neglected animals who cannot defend themselves. Both of these charities help the community through human compassion, joy and companionship. They empower citizens in small or large numbers to do the right thing – to change the world.

Changing the world is a team effort, and with all the people volunteering from Tallahassee to Seattle, they are positively impacting their communities in millions of ways. Each person who volunteers is working to make a greater America, and a greater world. Some deeds are noticed and do get recognition, but many of the best deeds are those accomplished without praise. A thoughtful citizen or group of citizens just helping, not expecting praise, can do just about anything. Each act, no matter how small, contributes to the greater good. This chain effect is what Mead was talking about. One group of citizens won’t change the world in one deed, but they set off a chain of good that just may.

Runner-Up
Julia Hernandez

from Trinity Catholic School

“Community Service: Strengthening Our Community”

 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The wise words of Margaret Mead are especially relevant today. Millions of people around the world do not have access to basic human needs like education, food and water, and a place to sleep. These issues sometimes seem too large to take on. However, small acts of service, like cleaning up a park or volunteering at a homeless shelter, can make a huge difference.  By recognizing weak areas in a community and turning them into strengths, these seeming insignificant acts have the power to change communities for the better.

There are many instances where community service strengthened a community. In Palm Beach County, Florida, Estella Pyfrom used her life savings to found “Estella’s Brilliant Bus”, a mobile computer lab where underserved children can get free educational training and access to technology. By the end of 2016, the program had served over 1 million children. (Estella’s Brilliant Bus) In Charlotte, North Carolina, Robin Emmons turned her backyard into a garden to provide for people with no access to fresh produce. She then founded the organization “Sow Much Good”, which works to provide everyone with access to produce and encourage healthy eating (Sow Much Good). These women recognized weak areas in the community and strengthened them with community service. They later moved on to aid not only their community but the whole nation.

One weak area that I see in my community is education, In the 2013-2014 school year, Florida’s high school graduation rate was only 76.1% (Florida Department of Education), compared to the 81% national average (U.S. Department of Education).  To strengthen this area, I participate in my school’s tutoring program. When I tutor, I can see them beginning to understand difficult subjects and start to love learning again.

Another weak area is juvenile delinquency.  In 2014, there were 66,845 juvenile delinquency arrests in Florida alone (Florida Department of Law Enforcement). To help lower juvenile delinquency rates in my community, I volunteer as an attorney at my county’s Teen Court program, which is a diversion program for first-time juvenile offenders. Defendants that come to Teen Court walk out determined to never break the law again, and knowing that my peers and I have changed their lives for the better is an amazing feeling. Statistically, Teen Courts have shown to be more effective than the traditional juvenile justice program. Recidivism rates for teen courts in Alaska, Arizona, Maryland and Missouri were 6%. 9%, 8%, and 9%, respectively, while recidivism in the same states for the traditional justice system 23%. 15%, 4%, and 28%, respectively. (the Urban Institute)

Every community has weak areas. However, as shown by the likes of Estella Pyfrom and Robin Emmons, it is possible to turn a community’s weak areas into strengths. If we work together as thoughtful, committed citizens, striving to make our community a better place, things will change for the better. And if we, a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens, can strengthen our community, there is no reason why we can strengthen the nation. And if we can strengthen the nation, changing the whole world for the better is not far off.

Honorable Mention
Madeleine Roberts

from Maclay School

“Committed to a Common Good:  The Family’s Role in Community Service”

Margaret Mead, the legendary anthropologist, is well-known for her optimistic view that “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”  Mead is famous for one other belief – the opinion that the family unit provides the foundation of a healthy society.*  Indeed, her phrase “a small group of…committed citizens” rings familiar; in fact, it sounds very much like a description of a family.  Therefore, by connecting her championed ideas, it can be argued that the family unit can serve as a powerful cultivator of a lasting lifestyle of community service whose influence can extend through the generations.

In my life, this connection between family and service has proven true. I was born the oldest of five in an active family where service has been an inherent part of our lives. My parents helped start a mission called Pura Vida in San Ramon, Costa Rica, and my siblings and I have traveled there to help local people in need. My parents have also supported the Salvation Army and encouraged each child to volunteer there whenever possible. For instance, my siblings and I have prepared meals for the homeless and rung the ubiquitous bell in front of stores. Since before I can remember, my father and I have taken part in the Salvation Army Angel Tree every Black Friday. We sit at a table in the local mall and display cards that have a child’s desired present in the hopes that someone in the rush of determined shoppers will “adopt” these deserving kids and give them a special Christmas. It has become a meaningful family tradition and has further taught me the joy of service to others.

Service learned within the family eventually steps out on its own. Prompted by lessons learned within my family, this year I began to ask the question: “Is what I’m doing with my time beneficial to others or only purposed for my own gain?”  Upon reflection, I decided to drop the school clubs, academic teams, and activities that were self-serving in order to free up my time in the afternoons to be able to start a peer-to-peer tutoring program for struggling students at my school, something I have dreamed for several years. I currently conduct regular, hour-long tutoring sessions several times a week, which has been a unique and satisfying opportunity to grow in wisdom while helping others grow in wisdom as well. This volunteer effort is a direct result of my upbringing in a family where service has been a priority.

The ability to improve the world is much closer to home than it may seem. Within Mead’s valued family unit lies the potential beginnings of a lifestyle of community service—a spark which can last generations. The “small group” of family engaged in service can have a lasting effect by changing a child’s perspective from a natural selfishness to a recognition of the needs of others and a desire for involvement and action. By modeling and inspiring community service, a family really can be the genesis of positive change in the world. In the words of Margaret Mead, “Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

 

*Mead, Margaret, and Ken Heyman. Family. New York: Macmillian, 1965. Print

 

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