My daughter spent part of a High School summer doing community service work in Costa Rica. This is the norm for middle class kids in our area, whether you go to public school like my daughter, or private school like my Teen X. Teens show how community minded they are, and put it on their college application. My understanding is that colleges almost expect kids to have some glaring public service announcement that they pull out as needed.

When my daughter went to Costa Rica she worked in two areas: Housing and day camp. She poured a concrete floor for a family that previously only had dirt. I don’t know exactly what goes into making a concrete floor, but my daughter said it was hard and exacting. She literally saw the woman and the family that she was helping to provide with a new floor. She knew that if she screwed up, this family would be the ones to suffer. There was a literal face to the cause. She left her days exhausted but feeling good about what she was doing.

The other part of her trip revolved around working in a day care center. She lead the kids in games and crafts and spoke to them in English so that they practice their language skills. Her biggest takeaway was that these kids, though they didn’t enjoy the luxuries that her and her NYC friends have, still showed such a sense of joy and wonder. They were not jaded or sad or mean like some of her NYC classmates who had considerably “more” than they did. She loved this experience so much that it was one of the reasons that she is pursuing a minor in Education and Social Justice. No, she does not want to be a teacher, but she would love the ability to work on educational policy reform.

We also can’t forget about my daughter and water. When in Costa Rica, my daughter saw in real time just how precious a commodity potable water is. On her short list of causes she believes in, water is right there front and center.

My daughter chose to look past her upbringing to see what other parts of the world, what other people face. She is by no means a Saint, nor is she perfect, and sometimes she forgets that she has things come easily to her, but this experience really made her see and feel things she did not know about.

But does every child take away the same experience?

We know someone who did a service trip this summer, in America, and this was based on working with sea life and oceans. Teen X is very environmentally friendly.

I saw the parent of Teen X while Teen X was still on the trip.

Me: How does X like the trip?

Parent of X: Well, X hates the group leader. X has been arguing with the group leader since the beginning of the trip

Me: What does she argue about?

Parent of X: X doesn’t like the rules.

Me: Like what?

Parent of X: X didn’t realize how much cleaning up of garbage there would be. She thought they’d be helping the environment

At this point I mumbled my way out of the conversation because really, if you don’t see what is right in front of your face, my pointing it out isn’t going to help much.

So what’s the point of this? Was it just to humble brag about my daughter? Partially, sure. My daughter has managed to defy her spotty parenting to become a decent human. But it’s also to highlight why colleges kinda sorta want to see community service on a middle to upper middle class kids resume. The goal is to make the kids see what the world is really like, even if it’s just for three weeks during the summer between sophomore and junior years.

Yes we have a shortage of water.

Yes, some people live in huts with no windows and no electricity and dirt floors.

Yes, some kids are happy without the latest tech gadgets.

Yes, the oceans and beaches and whatever are filled with human waste products that must be cleaned up.

But sometimes you need to see these things up close and personal in order to understand them. The problem is, some people can be exposed to something and still not understand the issues. How often are we blind to what is right there in front of us? How many willfully choose not to look deeper at an issue? How many people choose to see things that way that they want to see them?

You can choose to look at the world the way you think it is, or the way it actually is. Which way will actually start solving the issues that we face?

50 thoughts on “Pick Up The Trash

  1. I became aware some time ago that clean water is a major issue internationally. Only one in eight people in the world have running water for bathroom use. One of the great charities to address this issue is Water First International.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You ask: “But does every child take away the same experience?” No. I know Teen Y who came away from community service work in Guatemala with a greater understanding that the prosperity gospel, as taught in conservative Christian churches, is true. He saw poverty up close but learned that because he he believed more, he was blessed more. 🙄

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You know…I normally come up with different response scenarios to questions/theories I pose. I’m rarely caught off guard…but twice this week it’s happened. No words

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  3. Interesting blog to read. It surprised me. Not the service hours or the lessons learned, but the traveling. I suppose every state is different in expectations. But, I’m pretty sure that no college out there requires anyone to leave the country or state to get service hours. I had multiple students get accepted to Ivy League Schools, including Harvard and Yale and while all had to get a specified number of service hours in various areas, none were required to leave the country or the state.
    My own children volunteered locally in the community at several places, businesses, shelters, soup kitchens, community centers, hospitals, etc.
    I can tell you there would have been no way this teacher ( moi) could have afforded to send my own children out of the country. Seriously? That’s not in any world educators live in. Both my children graduated high school as advanced placement scholars, Bright futures recipients, and graduated college magna cum laude and summa cum laude. And neither were required to leave the USA. My oldest son used to drive my oldest grand daughter on weekends to work at a riding camp for teens with disabilities which was just one of the places she received service hours. She worked helping the homeless, feeding people in a shelter, helping animals that were in need of rescue etc. But, she never left the country and she still received a bright futures academic college scholarship. But, for people who attend public school, at least in south Florida, nobody has the money to send their children away to a foreign country for service hours. That baffles me.

    I remember taking my kids to donate to those in need on Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. even before they were in high school and needed service hours. How fortunate that your daughter had an opportunity to learn and see the world as well. I’m sure she appreciated the experience.
    But, your daughter is a socially conscious young woman who is not only bright, she’s polite and gracious. Really, she’s lovely. But your friend’s child, no offense, sounds like a spoiled brat. Just my opinion. Someone needs to give her AND her mom a wake up call.

    By the essays and interviews school admissions give they are aware of which students took away meaningful experiences.

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    1. I’m going to give you a scenario. 1000 kids from nyc public high schools apply to college X. These kids have no special interest or sub category. They are white, middle class, not the first ones in family to go to college, not immigrants or have parents who are immigrants. They all have gpas between 96 and 97.5. They all scored above 1450 on the sats. They have as many AP course as possible per their school, all receiving 4 or 5. They are all in the top 10% of their class, and go to highly ranked high schools. They each are involved in at least two extra curricular clubs at school, and are a leader in at least one. They all have completed their 20 hours of required community service locally. The admissions counselor knows that only 1 or 2 of these 1000 candidates will be offered a position at the college. How does admissions counselor whittle down from 1000 to 2 when their resumes are so similar?

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  4. Our girls didn’t leave the country but went to the Deep South to revisit the Civil rights movement. I know they came back deeply moved and with much greater understanding about the differences between being Black and being white. Also taught them about working/saving for what you want as we could not have afforded to send them on our own. Similar experience I’d say, but I’m sure that it didn’t affect every kid the same way either.

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  5. I laughed so hard at the garbage comment! Unbelievable. My daughter volunteered with me through National Charity League. She hated going until she had an aha moment at Angel View Crippled Children’s home. It’s a local charity that provides care for severely handicapped children through their entire lives with 24-hour care. These are people who can’t stand, can’t walk and are fed with tubes. We were given a Christmas gift list for a resident. The list said “zip loc bags.” We stopped at the store on our way to the “party” and my daughter picked out three sizes of zip locs plus a box with a Santa face. When she gave the resident the gifts, the woman held the Santa up to her face and turned around in her wheel chair sobbing. We asked her what was wrong and she barely could get the words out. “I’m just so happy!” My daughter cried with her as the woman opened and closed a zip loc.

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  6. Willful ignorance is a thing that I take part in, but I also despise. I think there’s always a way to look deeper at an issue/experience, and there’s always more we can do.

    I also hate that X will probably go on to over-glorify their experience doing something they didn’t want to do and be accepted into college, anyway.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Excellent (and sadly shocking) post about teen service and seeing how the rest of the world lives.

    A high school friend said his daughter was going to be an environmental science major and asked me what she should focus on. No question: Water, I said.

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  8. After spending 7 years in Mexico, I find myself back in the U.S. often saying about an issue that arises in my life, “That is a first world problem,” and realizing how grateful I should be for what I have.
    Water is such a major issue. I can’t imagine as a mom having to choose between a dehydrated child or a water-born disease ridden child.
    Parents of Teen X are choosing to raise a snowflake. She will melt at the first adversity. 😒

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  9. Great points! I had to shake my head if someone was interested in the environment couldn’t understand the scope of the trash problem even when it was right in front of them! Wow! Maybe not the best person to pick that career field. I think that it is not helpful to have those experiences on college applications. The “check the block” public service is not a real determining factor on if someone will be successful at obtaining a college degree or even having empathy. I know many Midwest kids that work hard on farms everyday, can’t afford going on trips to fill in a block on a college application and know that their work ethics should be enough to land them in college and make them successful to finish. Not sure the value added with the public service “fill in the block”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Kids working on a farm won’t need it. It’s kids in the notheast who have a completely different experience. The most elite universities in America get the most applicants from the northeast. If you want, read my response to Lesley. I’m too lazy to retype it😆

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  10. “Parent of X: X didn’t realize how much cleaning up of garbage there would be. She thought they’d be helping the environment…” Did Said Parent even tell teen X that’s exactly what they are doing or was Parent X just as clueless ?

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Oh the cognitive disconnect of Teen X is… sadly all too common. And I don’t mean in just teens, but in so many generations currently. It’s positively depressing.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Another great post, LA. Seeing the world that truly exists is a choice. We must choose to see difficulty, harsh truths, inequity, etc, because it is the only way to create and effect change. Great job, daughter…

    Liked by 2 people

  13. AMEN! Great post and kudos to your daughter too for getting it!
    We were just talking about volunteer work with my son, for my nephew is in Arizona right now doing volunteer work. I was in South Carolina for a year volunteering after Hurricane Hugo went through. It really does open your eyes! ❤

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  14. I love that your daughter had this experience. It gives us a perspective on things that we wouldn’t otherwise get. I remember when my oldest son went on a Missions Trip to Haiti at 17 years old. He was part of a group building a concrete church building. The first email I received from him was how incredibly grateful he is for clean water in the United States. Something we just take for granted and don’t think about. But when people get a chance to see another side of life, it gives them a greater appreciation and in your daughter’s case, direction for what she wants to do in life. That’s awesome. Brag away!

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