Should community service be mandatory?
roves leadership skills and rewards the proactive member of a community with a sense of moral satisfaction.
The Lioness By Eric Liu
Sunnyvale Lions Host Suzie DeUnger believes that community service should be a requirement for all high school students I was a freshman in high “W hen school, I went on to become the social chairman, in charge of festivities,” said Suzie DeUnger, current President of the Sunnyvale Host Lions, proudly. Her jovial expression soon turned somber: “I got elected, but then I was not allowed to do anything” (DeUnger). I stare in disbelief. All high school student government positions had responsibilities, so why was Suzie inhibited? As if she read my mind, Suzie answered curtly, “Because the cheerleaders, or the ‘rah rahs’ as we used to call them, got to do everything. And for me it was just a title, and that really hurt my feelings.” Suzie DeUnger is merry, gregarious, and always has a smile on her face. Throughout the interview, she would answer animatedly; she used gestures to emphasize a point and seemed to always be in motion. Always polite, she would take a moment to ponder before answering a question to the fullest extent. My interview of Lion Suzie was not the first time we talked; I was a high school junior when Lion Suzie replaced another representative from the Sunnyvale Lions. Although I’d known her for over a year, we hadn’t had a full conversation, face to face, until now. But as our conversation progres-
sed, I discovered that she was decisive as she was confident as a leader. As we sipped our drinks at a Denny’s, I asked how the clash between her and the cheerleaders would affect her later on. Suzie’s high school experience, albeit a quotidian occurrence for many high schoolers who aspire to introduce big change to through student government, is unique because it has shaped her view on community service to this day. Suzie DeUnger would retain the rancor memory, but instead of letting it discourage her, she learned from the experience.
Chronology A grandmother and the current President of the Lions Club in Sunnyvale, DeUnger pushes for an increase in youth participation in community service. As an adviser to the Mountain View high LEOs Club, she helps the club officers organize and coordinate events, and has been attending every single meeting for the past couple of years. DeUnger firmly asserts that high school students should be required to do community service not as a punishment, but as a means to liven the spirit by giving back to society. She believes that volunteering imp-
New member to president In 2006, Suzie DeUnger joined the Sunnyvale Lions, a community service branch of the internationally recognized Lions. Her husband, however, joined much earlier. “My husband was invited to be a lion 20 years ago. Since he would go Tuesday night, I got excited because I had the evening to myself,” recalls Suzie. “But then I went to the fundraisers, the projects, and pretty much got sucked into it. When he became the governor, I decided to join. He was the governor in 2006” (DeUnger). A governor of the Lions Club oversees the events of a dozen or so Lions divisions, coordinating over a thousand of volunteers. From then on, Suzie DeUnger became increasingly involved with community service. In 2010, she began helping the Mountain View LEO Club, the high school version of the Lions, with its weekly meetings. After another reprieve of sipping our drinks, I ask if she can give me an example of the effects of community service. She ponders for a moment, and then animatedly describes her grandnephew, a Boy Scout, volunteering with his friends at a local shelter. “They were getting ready for a big event at a church. The night before, the kitchens were stuffed with food, so the cub scouts said ‘we’ll do something.’ So they made 200 bag lunches, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, chips and we had a lot of people helping. He was 9. To have a 9 year old and his buddies feed homeless people!” (DeUnger). “If it weren’t for them helping out, they would have had nothing,” says Suzie, further emphasizing her point that community service has a significant impact.
Taking the initiative Like a proud lioness, she commends her grandson for taking the initiative. I distantly recall what I was like when I was nine years old; all I can remember is that I was preoccupied with playing the game ‘foursquare.’ When I was devoted to a simple recess game, Suzie’s grandnephew was volunteering at a food shelter. I’m amazed that Suzie’s grandnephew could exemplify leadership at such a young age. I ask her if community service should be a high school requirement, and read an excerpt from the Civic Index for Education: “When school and community organizations support youth involvement, they are developing the leaders of tomorrow” (Metlife Foundation). As demonstrated by DeUnger’s grandnephew, youth involvement in community service does result in development of leadership skills, like the ability to take the initiative. A study done by Terry College indicates that community service is beneficial in teens, even if it’s not mandatory: “Pope noted that students gain more from their volunteer efforts than just a passing grade in class. ‘With these volunteer hours, students are developing leadership qualities. Their community service work teaches them to be stewards of the community’” (Crowe). The study shows that students who enrolled in a community service class benefited far more than just taking another course, and is an example of the benefit of mandated community service. Suzie didn’t miss a beat. “You could throw a troublemaker out of school for a week, or you could have him do community service. I think that, if it’s going to be a punishment, whoever is setting this has to have everything in place for this student to go through, and not just for him to find his path. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, and it’s a good option for kids that are in trouble. It’s a healthier alternative” (DeUnger).
Suzie organizes the LIONS for the parade.
The LEO Club Suzie believes that, while community service should be mandated for high school students, merely doling out volunteer hour quotas as minor punishments will ultimately be of little use or benefit. While Suzie DeUnger only needs to run the Sunnyvale Lions, she still finds the time to assist organizing LEOs at Mountain View high. One of the annual projects is the book drive, which sends lightly-used novels to teenagers in Africa. She helped with packaging the books and mailing them as well. Another community service project that the LEOs works on annually is the pumpkin carving event at the San Jose Family Shelter. Last year, 23 members of the club helped youngsters carve pumpkins, which was a volunteer opportunity that was enjoyable for everyone. An article written about building teen character states that “community service is a great way for teenagers to become aware of needs outside themselves” (Paxton). The article followed a teenager who, when she assisted disabled kids at a camp, became more altruistic when she experienced volunteer work first hand. Although high schools host a variety of student-run community service clubs, it can be frustrating to gather enough participants since many high school students tend to drift through clubs, never serious about any single one.
Suzie greeting guests at the Sunnyvale Commemoration
Future Plans Suzie hopes that every year, the LEOs will become a more efficient and effective volunteer service club, and will in turn attract more members. Last year in particular marked a significant jump in membership; fundraising to finance the library project was easier because more people participated in the activities. In addition to taking diligent notes of the club’s activities and planning ahead for future events, she routinely makes sure the club stays on topic and offers suggestions for activities and ways to improve the community. Besides working as a Lion and helping out the LEOs, Suzie DeUnger is keen on watching her grandnephew develop his leadership skills even further and be there for him. Suzie DeUnger smiles warmly, “My grandnephew will make a fine Lion someday.”