Individuals should focus on giving service close by

Amid violent protests and heated controversy regarding race and police brutality, the town of Ferguson, Mo. is making waves in a different way, this time in the form of a charity-based alternative spring break option for 250 of the town’s young residents. This week of service involves assisting local business owners in making repairs and establishing sustainability projects like planting gardens and beautifying streets.

[ Do you agree with volunteering being part of student life? ]

While this form of alternative spring break isn’t likely to help resolve the current conflict of opinions surrounding the death of Mike Brown and the results of the court case against Darren Wilson, it does remind us of the importance of stewardship in our own backyards. Too often there persists a belief that volunteering abroad carries greater merit than doing the same type of work within our own nations and states, and sustaining this perception comes at the detriment of the needy in our own neighborhoods.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 62.6 million Americans engaged in volunteer work in 2013. This number may seem high but it only represents 25.4 percent of the total population, and the same news release found that volunteer rates were lowest among 20 to 24-year-olds. These numbers illustrate a clear need for action. Utah has the highest rate of volunteerism at over 44 percent, but the majority of such action is carried out through religious organizations as opposed to social services and educational institutions. The work done by volunteers of shared faiths benefits thousands across the state, but for those who don’t identify within that creed or any creed at all, some services may not be available or useful to them.

Utah’s 2005 Housing First initiative claims responsibility for a 74 percent decrease in chronic homelessness in the state, but residents still struggle with poverty, unemployment and a lack of access to health care and quality education. These are the untouched realms that even as young adults we have the power to change. By volunteering at organizations dedicated to social advocacy or mentoring young students in low-income districts, we take action against the problems that plague the world immediately around us and enable others to do the same.

Volunteering abroad is an incredible way to make a positive impact on the world. Whether it’s supplying aid after natural disasters or offering services that were previously unavailable to certain populations, these efforts make a true difference. But you must remember that applying yourself similarly closer to home not only removes the financial burden of traveling abroad to volunteer, but also allows us to make use of a powerful advantage. We know our neighborhoods, our state politicians, the way things work and the way change can best be brought about in the areas where we live. This deep knowledge and understanding of our surroundings helps us find the best solution to the unique problems plaguing our community, proving that stewardship — no matter where it happens — is well worth the work.

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