Oklahomans are generous and helpful people. It was no surprise when Volunteering in America ranked Oklahoma City fifth in volunteer rates, but it is also important that we keep this wonderful tradition going. That’s why Oklahoma County officials have joined with school leaders to create SHINE for Students, a new way to encourage young people to engage in, and learn from,  community service.

                SHINE stands for Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere. Originally created to divert non-violent offenders into community service, SHINE has so far devoted some 12,000 hours to cleaning up litter, clearing brush, painting over graffiti and making Oklahoma City neighborhoods more livable.

                SHINE for Students goes far beyond the original program. High school and college students enlisted in SHINE for Students will commit to giving at least 100 hours of community service before graduation, to any worthy effort, including service to local non-profit organizations. Once their service is certified the students will receive a certificate and the right to wear a red, white and blue cord on their graduation gowns – plus the satisfaction of knowing they have helped make their community a little better.

                SHINE for Students community service volunteers may help remove litter. They might work at a local animal rescue facility or a nursing home. Some may choose to devote their community service efforts to their churches or Scouting organizations. The important thing is not where or when, but how their efforts help the community, and how they assist those students in learning valuable lessons they’ll carry into adulthood.

                This is more than a “feel good” program. Research has made it clear that students who do volunteer work outside of school also do better in school. An active student volunteer program can help prevent some students from dropping out and encourage them to succeed.

                One study of a student volunteer program in Wisconsin showed increased student grades, reduced truancy and broad student satisfaction with their work.  Many students reported developing new skills from their community service work, and some found new career options.

                In another study, students taking part in community service programs were 22 percent more likely to go on to complete college. Along the way the volunteering students also scored 6.7 percent higher than their non-volunteering peers in reading and 5.9 percent higher in science.

                SHINE for Students is open to any Oklahoma County high school or college student, and to students from other counties who do volunteer work here. It has already been officially embraced by Oklahoma City Community College, Rose State College and public schools in the Mid-Del and Western Heights districts. Other schools are welcome to join, and my office is eager to work with schools and individual students to help them choose worthy community service projects.

                “You make a living by what you get,” Winston Churchill said. “You make a life by what you give.” That’s the lesson of SHINE for Students.

Brian Maughan is Oklahoma County Commissioner for District Two.

Start Helping Impacted Neighborhoods Everywhere