End of Service First allows for fresh ideas and improvements
After 16 years, Service First is coming to an end due to budget and logistical complications. The event, where freshmen hop on buses in droves to paint schools and perform other service activities, will be replaced by smaller community service events.
Primarily, Service First consisted of freshmen going to schools on the weekend to help with infrastructure improvements. In general, it was a very impersonal experience in terms of interacting with the St. Louis community, and students didn’t have much of a choice in what service project they did. Instead, Service First was more a chance to bond with floormates, or, for some, an awkward day spent working together with fellow students they didn’t know.
We do not intend to criticize Service First now that it has come to an end but rather to use it as a learning experience to relaunch and rethink a different kind of Service First. We propose that more meaningful, enjoyable projects could be selected not only to add greater value to the overall experience but to also enlighten students about Washington University’s vast array of community service organizations.
Floor bonding was an integral component of Service First and a reason why a majority of the freshman class participated. Therefore, one option to replace it could be to have resident advisers lead a service trip for their respective floors with the assistance of the Community Service Office, thereby keeping the floor bonding aspect of Service First intact.
Furthermore, a positive aspect of Service First experience was the community service fair held right after it at the Clocktower. Freshmen who came off the buses and flocked back to their dorms were first funneled through this opportunity to sign up for community service groups and make a longer-lasting impact. With Service First gone, the University will be hard-pressed to generate as much interest for the community service fair, but there are some ways to make the new Service First complementary to it.
For instance, rather than solely being assigned to do some kind of infrastructure-based volunteering—as necessary as it might be for the St. Louis community—students should be allowed to sign up for a particular service event hosted by a community service club such as Each One Teach One, Campus Y, Habitat for Humanity or other organizations. While each club would have to take additional time to plan and coordinate the events for freshmen, it would be an invaluable built-in recruiting opportunity for them.
Overall, giving students the flexibility to choose what kind of difference they want to make in the St. Louis community will likely improve their experiences and provide them with a better perspective of the community service opportunities available on campus.