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What Happens When Volunteering Becomes A Trend?

By Camille Veri
31 Jul 2014

The act of volunteering seems inherently good and beneficial, and it almost sounds paradoxical to question that it is so. How could spending time helping people in need not be a positive thing? This recent story from NPR by Carrie Kahn discusses the rising trend in volunteerism and addresses concerns that may be raised due to the influx of students and young adults seeking to volunteer.  The article mentions that many young people today appear to be more interested in service and bettering society than in leisure and luxury. It’s not necessarily the volunteering that is cause for concern, rather the reason for it. Volunteer organizations are worried that some people might be driven by a chance to build their own resumes than by a genuine concern for contributing to a certain cause. In addition to this, Kahn explains that there is worry that for-profit organizations will try to capitalize on the popularity of volunteering.  She quotes Theresa Higgs, who runs her own volunteer non-profit in Boston:

“What I think often gets lost is the host communities…Are they gaining? Are they winning? Or are they simply a means to an end to a student’s learning objective, to someone’s desire to have fun on vacation and learn something?”

The article suggests that being educated and informed about the group of people you are serving and their needs will lead to a more meaningful experience for both the volunteer and the population that he or she is helping. What are your thoughts the volunteerism trend? Have you heard about or participated in group trips where you questioned how much the group was actually contributing to the community and cause? This topic is especially relevant at DePauw since we have so many service related travel opportunities. Comment with your thoughts and any stories from personal volunteer experience that you’d like to share.

Camille Veri served as a Graduate Fellow at the Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics from 2104-2015 and a 2014 graduate of DePauw University, where she studied Philosophy. She now works in Chicago.
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