The below speech was given by Waterford President of Community Service Council, Tyler A. ’24, at an Upper School assembly during Waterford’s Week of Service 2023.
Hello everyone. My name’s Tyler A., and this year, I’m the president of our Community Service Council. As I hope you all already know, today is the start of Waterford’s week of service, with our Joni Jensen dinner happening this Friday. So today, I’d like to talk about the dinner and some of our other community service projects, as well as why I believe that they’re important for us to do.
The Joni Jensen dinner is a long-standing Waterford tradition that began many years ago with help from a Waterford parent named Joni Jensen. She passed away from cancer at an early age, and the dinner was then named after her in her honor. Each year, Waterford hosts a group of refugees, and this year, we have invited a group from South Sudan. The dinner will be provided by one of their food trucks, which we believe is a wonderful way to support them while sharing in their culture. Everyone is invited to attend, including faculty, but our space is limited. If you would like to come, please sign up at Mrs. Hamideh’s desk as soon as possible. Tickets are, I believe, $15, and you’re able to charge them to your account. We’re also collecting items from each grade to give to the refugees, and everyone is welcome to donate gift cards and new or slightly used coats.
Waterford’s Week of Service is an opportunity for our community to help a group of people transition out of a difficult situation and into a better one. South Sudan is currently experiencing an incredibly severe humanitarian crisis, with 76% of the population, accounting for over 9 million people, being in need of humanitarian assistance. Since its independence in 2011, South Sudan has experienced several droughts and floods, two civil wars, economic emergencies, and many other issues stemming from instability and climate change. With all of this, I think it’s clear that as we’re in a position to help these people, we should. But I still want to recognize that there can be a huge disconnect for a lot of people between acknowledging these issues—and actually caring about them and supporting whatever the cause may be.
Last year, I had the opportunity to run our Fall Bake Sale, which was dedicated to supporting flood relief efforts in Pakistan. This was a cause that I had zero connection to, and besides a few Pakistani families here, Waterford really didn’t either. Because of this, someone asked me why we were supporting a cause from around the world rather than one within our own community or something in Utah. Now, I think this sentiment regarding community service is incredibly understandable. It can be very difficult to see why we’re doing what we’re doing, and this is something that I’ve struggled with the past two years as I’ve involved myself with community service more.
For our Fall Bake Sale this year, the community service council decided to dedicate it to helping those affected by the fires in Hawaii. Despite countless other issues going on in the world that we recognized, Hawaii was the obvious choice for whom we were going to support due to many Waterford families’ connections to Hawaii. Many of us, including myself, have vacationed there or have some other tie to the islands. And our choice to support Hawaii, at first, felt very weird to me.
Obviously, the people in Hawaii were struggling and could benefit from our support, but the circumstances regarding our support made me feel conflicted about what we were doing. The fires had started because of global warming, and global warming had been caused by industrialization. This same industrialization took away land from indigenous Hawaiian peoples in order to put hotels and resorts on the islands for people like me to vacation at. It was impossible for me to see my place in this all. What exactly were we going to be supporting with our bake sale? Was our money going to help the resorts, or was it going to go to the innocent civilians, or even towards protecting indigenous land?
So, the point I’m getting at is that I recognize that it can be very challenging to involve yourself with community service, especially when the issues are so nuanced. The questions of why we’re supporting something and what our support even looks like can have seemingly unclear answers, but I’d like to argue that it’s actually incredibly simple.
The fundamental purpose of community service is to help others, and this purpose should never be ignored. At the end of the day, the question of “why?” isn’t that important. We held a bake sale for Hawaii because we thought it would get the most support from the community. We held one for Pakistan because Mr. Menke recommended it. Asking why we’re choosing one place over another is only going to prevent us from helping other people who need it. It didn’t matter that Pakistan was on the other side of the globe—people were still dying, and we had an opportunity to help them. The gross history of America in Hawaii wasn’t going to change the fact that people were losing their homes.
Taking this approach to community service, where we look beyond the initial reasoning, isn’t easy, but I believe that it’s necessary. The work you do can have genuine impacts on another person’s life, but you first have to do it. All of us are coming from a place where we’re able to give back, but I think that the thing constantly hindering us from actually giving back is asking the question, “What is the purpose?”
When I was first asked to speak on this idea of the purpose of community service, I was at a loss. While I believe that the ultimate end goal is to help people, it’s much more complicated than that. This goal isn’t enough for people to take the initial steps to do some form of service work. We approach community service by looking at the end and seeing if we think it’s worth it for us to go to the start. And so often, it’s simply not. We don’t feel a connection to the people we’re helping, or we feel conflicted about the connotations of our actions. We don’t want to take time doing something with an unclear outcome. And because of this, because of the uncertainty of “purpose,” I kept coming back to our theme from last year: joy in the journey.
While community service is meant to help others, that’s not the only thing we can gain from it. When Governor Cox was here several weeks ago, he talked about this idea a lot, and I think it’s very important to keep in mind. Community service is a form of self-fulfillment and self-betterment. Working to help others or doing something positive for the community will reflect on you. And I think that this holds true no matter what cause you are supporting or why you’re doing it. Like I said, we look at the initial steps and compare them to the end result of what we’re contributing to. I’ve found, though, that it’s vital to also consider the journey during the process that it takes to reach the end result. If you focus on how you’re going to be helped, you’re much more likely to want to take part in service work.
For a while, I thought that this idea was almost selfish. If the work I’m doing is meant to help others by using my place of privilege, is it right for me to also benefit? And after doing so many events where I could not connect to the end result or other people, I’ve realized that not only is this idea not selfish, but it’s essential.
Another event that I led last year was our blood drive. Unlike the bake sales and some other events we do, this wasn’t one that I struggled with the initial steps for because I could find a connection to its purpose. Several years ago, I needed to receive two blood transfusions. I knew what it was like to require someone’s donation in order to keep on living. I knew what the outcome of giving blood was, and it was important to me, so I was happy to lead the event. Still, though, I wasn’t actually looking at the process of running the blood drive—merely the end result of hoping that 30 people would donate blood. I never considered what positives I would receive from running this blood drive. Despite my connection to the end result and despite knowing the necessity of blood donors, I was very hesitant to even donate blood myself. Ultimately, I did—because I wanted us to reach the goal of 30 donors.
When it came to the day of the blood drive, though, something for me changed. Sitting at our check-in table for 4 hours and giving blood for the first time was incredibly self-fulfilling. I had an amazing time being there and going through the process of holding this blood drive. The two blood transfusions I received seven years ago came with a lot of trauma, and giving my blood allowed me to heal in a way that I could not have expected. I wasn’t thinking of how I would heal when I was announcing the drive-in assembly, when I was making posters, or when I was recruiting people to donate. I was looking at the purpose of getting 30 donors, but by the end of the blood drive, I realized that part of the purpose had been— for me. Part of the purpose had been the joy I found in doing this service work.
This is the purpose that enables me to continue doing community service. We can acknowledge and recognize different causes as much as we want, but this isn’t always enough for us to go through with the work needed to help these people. Understanding what we gain or what we might gain is the way that I believe we can find all of the value of community service.
So, it might be hard to get yourself to give blood. It might be difficult to see past the circumstances of a bake sale. But, in doing so, I’ve realized that you open yourself up to so much more. You allow yourself to do good and benefit from it as well. Finding joy in the journey is a necessary step for me to find purpose. Without the ability to force yourself to give back, you can never find the true worth that may be there.
I can’t say that with every service event you participate in, you’re going to find some new part of yourself. But I can say, from experience, that without the ability to get past those first steps of participating in an event, you can easily miss out on an experience you wouldn’t have anticipated. This has taken me a long time to learn and understand, but now that I have, I’m able to make the most of community service. I’m still supporting other communities and the people who need it, but I’m doing so in a way that makes me want to continue doing it.
I’ve been at Waterford for seven years now, and I don’t love saying this, but this will actually be the very first Joni Jensen dinner I’m attending. I truly don’t know what to expect it will be like, but I’m certain that in going, I will find something more to it than just what I’ve heard about each year that I haven’t gone.
So whether it’s with this dinner or any one of the other events the Community Service Council holds or any form of community service in general, please, I encourage you to take the first steps towards helping others. Buy a ticket, sign up, make a donation, and try to see past the value of your contribution; instead, look toward the value of the process you take to get there.
Thank you all.
July 13, 2022
August 10, 2020
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