• Community Service
Community Service with Humility & Grace

By Emma Kim ‘23

Welcome to Villeage Voices, where community members are invited to share their thoughts each month on a variety of topics relevant to life at Lawrenceville and beyond. In this edition, Emma Kim ’23 discusses the importance of a more sincere and helpful approach to community service. Kim holds a number of leadership positions across campus. She is the president of Lawrentians Educating for Advanced Placement, a peer tutor, a prefect in the Second Form girls’ House, and a Head Ropes Course Instructor. Kim is also captain of the Big Red varsity softball team, a member of the Tour Guide council, features editor of The Lawrence,  and president of both the Mock Trial and Model United Nations clubs. 

When I was younger, I’d often help my mother out with some of the household chores. I’d dry the dishes without being asked, walk and feed the dog, and fold the laundry and bring it upstairs. “Look Ma,” I’d say, “I did this for you. I helped you out!” While she thanked me for my assistance, she was quick to remind me that I wasn’t helping per se, nor was I doing this for her. As a member of the family, it was my duty to help out when I could. 

Similarly, community service is often equated with gracious, self-less action. However, real, meaningful service, while still rewarding, requires intentional action and a great deal of work. On Lawrenceville’s annual Martin Luther King Day of Service during my freshman year, Lyvonne Briggs ’00 gave a speech about impactful service that changed my worldview. She spoke of service as a commitment we each had to help those less fortunate than ourselves.  It is something we are supposed to do, and we should not do it expecting gratitude or validation but as our duty to our fellow person.

Service must focus on those receiving the service, and not the other way around. Such is the problem with “voluntourism” or performative activism; these programs focus on what the participants will take away or gain instead of the community they’re serving. Changed perspectives or gratitude may be a pleasant side effect, but should not be the main objective.

Our school’s Community Service program focuses on creating long-term relationships between Lawrentian volunteers and their students. I decided to use one of my strengths and lead Lawrentians Educating for Advanced Placement (LEAP). In planning LEAP sessions, there have been countless times when it would have been infinitely simpler to reuse a lesson from the prior year, ignoring the reading comprehension levels of the current students. This would require less effort on my part but would result in confusion and, worse, lowered self-esteem or severe misconceptions on the students’ side. Redoing the lesson to match students’ current levels takes more work, but the benefit is far greater and that is what matters. As long as I see students genuinely making progress with their reading and writing skills, coming out of their shell in mock interviews, or simply connecting with their mentor, I am satisfied.

Intentional community service can be a lot of work. It also seems counterintuitive - why do something when there is nothing in it for you? And yet there continue to be dedicated individuals who serve in their communities, who continue to work towards bettering our society and providing aid when it is needed. Serving is life-changing, and can drastically change your perspective. Instead of receiving gratitude, the server is the one who learns and understands true humility and grace.

For additional information, contact Lisa M. Gillard H'17, director of public relations, at lgillard@lawrenceville.org.