Service Above Self
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Enter the sliding doors, and a visitor is confronted by nurses and doctors rushing through hallways adorned with rainforest decorations and painted tropical scenes. A nurse dressed in pastel scrubs wheels a patient from his room for a blood test to track the effect of his medication on the HIV in his bloodstream; a member of the infectious disease team travels to another center of the hospital to consult with the parents of a patient who is suffering from an infection uncovered by an oncologist on a prior visit; a child life specialist speaks with a patient who lives in the hospital about how she passes her time.
Always close to capacity, the Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Disease is home to a variety of Riley patients ranging from newborns to some even beyond the age of 18, as the infectious disease team, according to its website, provides “inpatient care for nearly a thousand children a year and consult with all pediatric and surgical departments within Riley Hospital.” What makes the center even more unique is that it receives funds raised at Carmel Dance Marathon (CDM) through the service work of those at CHS. And while the funds from this year’s CDM will be allocated in different ways, the spirit of CHS students who volunteer their time to help Riley and other charitable organizations remains. However, the sense of service present at CHS is not necessarily evident elsewhere.
According to a survey by Nesta, an independent charity based in England, published in November, 69 percent of those surveyed said “volunteers have an important role to play in supporting public services;” however, the findings reflected that the average respondent only spent “one hour 47 minutes volunteering each week compared to 12 hours 40 minutes watching TV” with less time spent only “in the gym (one hour 28 minutes) and queuing for coffee (45 minutes).” The results of this survey mirrored data gathered by the Corporation of National and Community Service over the span of a two-year period which found that between 2011 and 2013, only 28.2 percent of Indiana residents volunteered, a minority that ranked Indiana as the 23rd in the nation according to volunteering rates.
Despite the low national ranking, Sam Johnson, Cabinet member and sophomore, said the absence of motivation manifested in population according Nesta’s survey is not the case at CHS as a large majority of students here are involved in charity work. He said he got involved with Cabinet because he thought the group would give him “the best opportunity to make the greatest difference in the lives of Riley kids.
“I would think that people at Carmel High School would (volunteer more in comparison to the general population) because we live in a great city and have comforts that we should be thankful for that others do not,” Johnson said. “I think that this along with the fact that there are so many clubs and activities that do charitable and volunteer work that it is very easy to get involved.”
Leslie Brown, a sponsor of the GKOM program, said she agreed that the students of CHS try to get involved as she reasoned those who have been helped try to help in return.
“Kids want to help other kids at this school,” Brown said. “It’s just a very positive environment, and kids see that other kids enjoy doing (GKOM), and I really think that the biggest thing is that because of the positive mentoring experience that people experienced as freshmen, they want to pay that forward.”
So while the Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic published a news release in February that found teenagers aged 16 to 19 had a volunteer rate of only 26.1 percent, Johnson said he believes CHS is an anomaly with a higher rate when it comes to volunteering as he cited CDM as an opportunity for students to give back to the community.
Johnson, who participated in and helps plan fundraisers for CDM, said, “(It stands out to me) how consistently high school kids (at this school) and others are willing to give up their time and efforts when they could be doing other things to help sick kids so (these patients) can have a chance to live an illness-free life. (CDM) is a huge fundraiser for Riley Children’s hospital where you raise money for the kids and stand for a set amount of hours for the kids who can’t…It was one of the most amazing experiences.”
Melissa Browning, Cabinet member and senior, said she agreed CDM allows for a lot of students at CHS to get involved in volunteering, whether it be through fundraising online or door-to-door or participating in one of the House events, as the funds raised at these events supplement the final total presented at CDM. These events for CDM helped people like Browning see the value in volunteering to help others.
“(Cabinet doesn’t) just work (to raise money) in February and the few days leading up to CDM. We put on events year-round and fundraise year-round for CDM and the kids at Riley,” Browning said. “Carmel Dance Marathon has shaped my entire high school experience. I fell in love with service and decided to join Cabinet and dedicate all my time to raising money for Riley and making CDM great.”
That sense of service is reflected by the data. For example, the Riley Children’s Foundation is supported by 65 high school dance marathons. According to the foundation’s website, the CHS Dance Marathon is the nation’s largest high school dance marathon, with over 1,000 student dancers standing for six hours at the event last year on Feb. 21. It “has raised over $1.6 million for the Ryan White Center of Infectious Disease at Riley Hospital.”
Nesta’s survey also reported that, “a third (of participants said) nothing would incentivise them to spend more time supporting (the community),” but Isabella Liu, NHS treasurer and senior, said while she recognizes reasons students might choose not to volunteer, she said everyone can learn something from service work.
“I believe that the academics and extracurricular activities offered at CHS limit the amount of time that students have to volunteer. I have experienced this problem first hand. Additionally, kids who don’t grow up volunteering may not understand its impact or feel strongly about volunteering,” Liu said. “I believe that (volunteering) is essential to contribute to improving the quality life of others. I always try to help others when possible. It also encourages cooperation within the community.”
Echoing Liu’s sentiments, Johnson said despite the high turnout for CDM and his own involvement in a plethora of different causes he enjoys volunteering for, he understands why some people do not donate their time to charity work.
“I think volunteering isn’t for everyone, and unless you want to be there and truly want to help, then you won’t receive any benefits, but it’s not about getting benefits from your service. (Volunteering) is about selflessly serving others to make a difference,“ Johnson said. “It is a special feeling…to know that you were able to make a difference in someone’s life. This drives me to give some of my time so others can have more time alive and healthy that they didn’t have before. This is especially true for the kids at Riley, who without some of the treatment wouldn’t be able to have any time to live a healthy time like we are.”
In regards to these benefits, research published by the Citizens Bureau in 2014 found that volunteering improves employability, self-esteem and health—especially mental health. This data also reemphasized results printed in the Harvard Health Publications in 2013 that relayed how “people who donate their time feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression.”
“(Volunteering) definitely creates a strong bond,” Johnson said. “When you are around so many people who are similar to you in that they love helping people for so long, it’s hard not to become very close knit. We are all united by the same goal, and despite us coming from different areas of life, service brings us together.”
Agreeing that volunteering produces a magnitude of benefits for all parties involved, Brown said she sees the mutualistic nature of the GKOM program firsthand.
“Both (groups) benefit; I think that the freshmen benefit by having a connection to an upperclassmen that they can hopefully rely on and look up to for mentoring and support, but the mentors also gain…new friends,” Brown said. “It does bring out a lot of leadership in kids that they maybe didn’t even know that they had until they experience working with the freshmen, and going through that experience in a group a lot of times brings out some qualities…so they are more confident maybe in going out for other things.”
Looking at the overall influence of volunteering, Browning said service work is more so about the process of helping people and what one learns along the way, rather than the final monetary sum raised.
“All we’re trying to do is help the kids at Riley, whether that means a total increase (in funds raised) or not. We give it all we’ve got all year long, and that helps us raise as much as we can,” Browning said. “Last year we went to Riley and painted murals on the walls of where kids wait to hear about treatment, their health news, etc. It was amazing to physically be in the same place as these kids and knowing that simply by painting a goofy farm mural on the wall we could give them a smile. It’s things like that that fuel me to give my all to CDM.”
Rebecca Burnham, Cabinet member and senior, said she also agrees that service work positively impacted her life and plans to further her involvement in volunteering beyond her high school years.
“I think that learning to be bigger than yourself and helping others has made me a better person and has inspired me to serve for the rest of my life,” Burnham said. “I’m really excited for Dance Marathon. It will be wonderful to see all of our hard work pay off in the best way possible. I always look forward to the Riley stories where I see how beneficial everything we do is. This year a new event, Runway for Riley, was really impactful because we got to hear different Riley stories from different points of view and it shows that hard work pays off.”
Browning said Dance Marathon and experience with volunteering through Cabinet even inspire some CHS students to pursue careers in charity-focused fields.
“I know I’ll continue to serve and do Dance Marathon throughout college,” Browning said. “It has definitely affected a lot of former Cabinet members as a lot of them have gone into majoring in non-profit business management.”
While the same February Bureau of Labor Statistics Economic news release delineated how time spent on service work dropped as individuals entered the 20 to 24-year-old age group, which boasted the lowest volunteer rate at 18.7 percent, Burnham and Liu also said they want to keep volunteering, once again acting as an exception to the general trend, and will remember their work with their respective organizations.
“I dance for everyone that ever has or ever will go to Riley Children’s Hospital,” Burnham said. “I dance for those who can’t because I want to spend my time helping people get out of the hospital so they can dance along with us.”
Liu said, “One of the highlights of being NHS treasurer is the liberty that I can take with volunteering. Not only do I get to attend amazing events put on by the community, but I am able to head and plan them at CHS as well. It’s an invaluable planning experience, and it allows me to do even more to help others. Additionally, I am very grateful to be surrounded by sponsors and peers who push me to be my best. Together, we all strive to improve the community and broaden our experiences by volunteering. I couldn’t have wished for a better way to end my senior year than strengthening this attitude towards volunteering.”
As volunteering remains an important aspect of CHS’ identity, Johnson said it is important to keep the cause one is working for in mind at all times, even past high school.
“(Charity work) will establish a lifelong love for helping people that will make me a more service-minded person in the rest of my life,” Johnson said. “I will definitely continue service after high school because Dance Marathon has showed me that a small group of determined people can make an enormous difference. So I will take that and apply it to the rest of my life.”