Student Voices stories are written by SMUS students on topics and issues that are important to them. Julia McDermott and Emily Selwood originally delivered a version of this text as a speech during Senior School chapel.
How does service fit into your everyday life?
We are your co-heads of Service Council at SMUS this year, and we want to share our perspectives on the importance of service. We have both been impacted by service in different ways and hope that we can encourage others to look for the same fulfillment. By reflecting on the same question above, we are able to better understand why we value service and its significance for us and others.
Julia’s Service Story
I was first introduced to true community service in Middle School through the service days; not the service days where we get to wear our normal clothes but days where we went into the community and volunteered for various causes. On one of these occasions, I was introduced to the homeless community in Victoria through a memorable visit to the Our Place Society. I love how the first place that removed me from my typical, comfortable surroundings continues to be somewhere I remain as a volunteer. As these service days happened infrequently, when I got to Grade 9, I was eager to help out more. Considering the name, I decided that Service Council would probably be the best place for this.
I will admit that at first my intentions were greater than my actions. As a timid Grade 9, the back of the French classroom where Service Council would meet is where I would stay for the majority of the meetings. However, after each year in Service Council, I was more involved than the year before.
I became more involved in our usual initiatives and also in other areas of service throughout the school; I joined clubs like Me to We and Volunteer Club to try and get into the community more. Through various service initiatives across the school, such as morning wake-ups with Me to We, beach clean-ups with Marine Club or holiday festivities with Service Council, I realized that helping out was a good place for me. Doing things for others, meeting new people and getting involved gave me a sense of fulfillment; I felt fulfilled because the time I gave meant something to others. It meant that maybe just one person’s day was a little bit easier because of something I had done. Or maybe it meant that I gave someone a good start to their morning.
I feel like everyone who knows me has heard me talk about the morning wake-ups, but it’s hard for me not to because they are so impactful. These morning wake-ups were one of our key initiatives with Me to We last year where every Thursday morning, along with Mr. Cook and reverend Al Tysick, groups of four would go downtown early in the morning to help meet with the homeless community first thing in the morning. We served them coffee and snacks to help start their day. Those mornings left me the most energized of all the mornings in my week. I tried to go as much as I could manage; it was 5 am, after all, and every time was more rewarding than the last.
The radiating gratitude from one person alone was enough to make my day. The two-minute life lessons from Rev. Al could have filled a book. After it was over, I couldn’t wait to go back. Every week that I was downtown with this community, my eyes were opened. I was taken out of my usual comfortable surroundings and given a new perspective. Yes, serving someone a morning coffee and cookie once a week can be a humble task, but I believe it’s an important one.
These are people who will go out of their way to ask you how you are doing at 5 am, even when they just woke up from their nightly resting spot. Often they don’t have the luxury of actually sleeping, as their conditions are not safe nor comfortable. Seeing this level of unconditional kindness has made me even more determined to help out whenever I can. Becoming even more deeply involved with Service Council this year by running for a Head position seemed like the natural next step for me.
Emily’s Service Story
I also joined the Service Council when I was in Grade 9. I had enjoyed planning service days and other initiatives in the Middle School so I thought joining the Service Council would be a good way to continue this work. I, too, stood at the back of a classroom listening and began to realize the impact that this work could make on communities both inside and outside the school. I have loved seeing smiles on students’ faces while participating in events we’ve organized but also thinking about the impact our school has made on communities all around the world, like the school we support through Hope for Youth Uganda. We have been supporting them through service days for eight years.
This tradition was started by students who have now graduated, but through them, we have a link to a school with kids the same ages as us on the other side of the world. I think it’s incredible to think about the relationships we have built with this school that started before most of us came to SMUS; relationships that will hopefully continue long after we graduate.
Unlike other service day recipients that normally change from year to year, we support Hope for Youth Uganda with a service day annually. We make a difference with every charity we support, but because we have had this relationship with Hope for Youth Uganda for so long, we don’t just get to see how we affect them once, we get to see the impact year over year.
For the past eight years, we have received email updates from those who run the program now on how the students are doing and what they continue to do through university. We also get emails directly from students both telling us about their education and thanking us for our contribution to their school. They send us updates of how the money raised here in Victoria has helped them to develop their school.
I feel so grateful to be receiving such a good education and as one of the Heads of Service Council this year I feel very lucky to organize a service day that will improve the education of kids living in Uganda. When we all come together as a community, as we do with our service days, we can make such a big impact. I love that because we raise money for Hope for Youth Uganda every year, we hear from students throughout their whole education and we get to hear about how their school has changed and developed. I always enjoy our service days but this is one of my favourites. We directly get to see how we are making an impact and we get to help kids our age get a good education, something we are all so fortunate to have.
The Impact of Service
We all love not wearing our uniforms once a month, but when we wear our casual clothes on service day it’s about contributing to an organization. We encourage you to think about the impact it makes.
Throughout the past eight years of supporting Hope for Youth Uganda, we have gotten to see the impact we have made on a community on the other side of the world. Through their many email updates, they have told us of how they have used the money we have raised through our service days to benefit their school.
The money raised has been used to buy sportswear and equipment, buy desks for their classrooms where they used to sit on the floor and, most recently, start a school garden. Something so simple as a desk to work at can make all the difference in one’s learning environment however, we often take these little things for granted.
We also have received many updates and letters from the students we sponsor. Some students we have sponsored in the past are now in university studying journalism, nursing, early childhood development and there are even students at culinary school. It’s amazing to hear from them and build the relationship between our two schools.
Here is an excerpt from a letter written by one of the students we sponsor:
“I am glad to inform you that next year I am going to conclude my ordinary level and when I finish, I wish to study my university from that university if I can. My ambition is to become a journalist and at the same time an artist (musician). I thank you for the effort you put in to support my education and I promise to read hard.”
Fitting Service into Your Everyday Life
We are all so fortunate to live in Canada, specifically Victoria. We are all so fortunate to go to SMUS and be able to take advantage of all the opportunities we are given. In order to recognize these privileges, we feel that it is important to give back, no matter how small. One may think that a toonie on service days wouldn’t make a difference, however collective efforts go a long way.
It doesn’t take much to get involved and commit to fitting service into your everyday life; every little bit helps. Even something as small as holding open the door for someone is an act of service. You don’t need to be involved with an organization or be frequently volunteering to consider service an active part of your life. To have service in your life, you just have to be mindful of others’ needs and make an effort to help – contributing something big or small – to make the world a better place.