If you’re planning to apply to college, you’ve already thought about community service. Admissions offices love it and some high schools even require it for graduation. So maybe you’ve volunteered at a local food pantry or have been researching opportunities at a nearby hospital. (And if you’re looking for more opportunities, we’ve got plenty to inspire you.)
But there’s another option: You could create your own community service project.
Why create your own community service project? First, it allows you to tailor your volunteer experience very precisely to your strengths, goals, and passions. Also, self-directed projects look great on college applications: They demonstrate leadership, initiative, and interpersonal skills that are always impressive to admissions officers. And don’t forget: Doing good, just feels good. Doing good your own way feels even better.
OK, so I’ve convinced you. How do you get started?
The first steps
Start by asking yourself where the need is: Is the local food pantry short-staffed? Are funds needed for victims of a recent disaster? Focus on finding a problem you can help solve instead of just thinking about your favorite causes. You might love dogs, but if the animal shelter has all the money and volunteers it needs, your efforts are better spent elsewhere.
Once you have an idea what need you might like to address, think in general terms about how to approach it. There are three main options:
- Raise money or goods to donate to a cause: organize a clothing drive to benefit the local thrift shop or run a trivia night to raise money for a cancer charity.
- Provide a service: recruit classmates to tutor elementary school students or work with the library to start a reading group for the elderly.
- Tackle the problem head-on: organize a community beach clean-up or distribute sandwiches to the homeless.
When in doubt, start small. A perfectly executed bake sale is going to be better for your chosen charity, your college application, and your happiness than an ambitious yearlong plan that never gets off the ground. Once your first endeavor goes well, you can always expand.
Delving into the details
This is the hard part but also the fun part -- you get to start turning your community service daydreams into reality. To get the ball rolling, ask yourself:
- What? Start getting into the details. A big event or a modest gathering? A raffle or a car wash? Working with students in school or at a community center? There is no question too small to ask yourself during this phase.
- Who? Is this a solo project or do you want a team? What can you handle on your own and what might be best delegated to someone else? Think about your strengths and who might complement your own skills and abilities.
- Where? Unless your project is completely online (hey, social media outreach for a local charity could be a great project) you’ll need a location.
- When? Is this a one-time event, a weekly program, or an ongoing service?
- Cost? Will you need money to pay for space, raffle prizes, paper, gas money? Can you arrange for donations or discounts from local businesses to offset some of your costs?
If your plan includes an event or a fund-raising campaign, communications will be essential, so take to Instagram and Snapchat and, yes, even Facebook to spread the word and share updates with followers. Also contact local newspaper and blogs and ask them to mention your project. Flyers in coffee shops and store windows are another great way to promote your efforts.
The big day has arrived, but your work is not done yet. During your project -- whether it’s a three-hour event or a weekly visit to a food pantry -- make sure you are communicating with attendees and beneficiaries. Are they getting the services or items they need? Do they know where to donate their money?
And document your community service project as you go. Photos and testimonials can, if appropriate, be posted to social media to encourage future participation or donations. They can also be used to bolster your college and scholarship applications and demonstrate the impact your project has had.
Most of all, take a moment to sit back and watch your hard work unfold. After all the effort you put in to creating your own community service project, you deserve to enjoy your success.