In our modern world, community service is often treated as a punishment—a judicial sentence for committing a comparatively minor crime. In tomorrow’s world, however, community service will be known not as a “slap on the wrist” for criminals, but as the responsibility and privilege of the righteous. At Living Education–Charlotte, faculty and students strive to foster this true sense of what it means to serve the community, and they do so through volunteer efforts, music, and that great unifier: food.
This semester, Living Education students and faculty assisted the Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, an organization devoted to providing resources to impoverished members of local communities. “The people at the food bank were very happy to see us,” said Dalton Mooney, a current Living Education student. “We had a great time. We sorted Walmart goods and had fun with it—we danced to some music while we scratched out bar codes. Everyone seemed to enjoy it.”
But these activities aren’t reserved for the students alone. The Charlotte congregation’s outreach activities are open to all members of the Church, and William Williams, who works in the Editorial Department at Headquarters, frequently attends. “It’s definitely something that gives anyone a chance to contribute,” Williams said. “Second Harvest, out of the three most common activities I’m familiar with, seems to be the most accommodating on several levels. It usually takes place in the evening rather than the middle of a workday, and it doesn’t require special talents—anyone can show up and pitch in. It’s just what it needs to be: casting bread on the waters without any need or temptation to know where it ends up.”
Students’ service extends beyond fulfilling physical needs. Living Education’s Christian Music course culminates in an end-of-year recital to lift the spirits of a few in the local community. “The end-of-year recital is an important aspect of Living Education’s music program—its main benefit is in the students being able to interact with the community in a different way,” said Rebekah Ross, music instructor for Living Education. “The audience gets to see the face of Living Education and interact with different people. For example, last year, we had the end-of-year recital at a retirement home. The people there were very happy and excited that we came. They really enjoyed seeing us perform, but also talking to us and to the students—to have that time to be visited.”
Often, the best way to serve people is simply to talk with them, and one of the most natural occasions for a conversation is over a meal. This past November, Living Education invited neighbors to a barbecue at the men’s dorm, giving students the chance to get to know the neighborhood they share. “It’s a good thing for the people in God’s Church to reach out to the larger community,” Mooney said. “We got to meet about five of the neighbors. [One of our neighbors] lives down the road from the student houses—he was actually the builder for those houses, along with all of the houses in the area. The family living across the street from the women’s house came, and they’re very nice people. They brought a bunch of delicious desserts.”
In an age when nearly anyone can easily locate and limit themselves to a group of people very like themselves, interaction with those who are not so similar is an important skill to develop—one that should foster a broader sense of empathy. “The students are learning that there’s a community outside their own,” Miss Ross said. “We can get caught up in the idea that if we’re serving in the Church, that’s the community—and it is, but there’s a whole world out there of people who can also be helped and served, people who need love and compassion. It’s vital that we in the Church don’t miss the fact that the people in the world are important.”
“There are a lot of great examples of people who are trying to do good in the world,” she added. “Often, we don’t take the time to look at those people and really appreciate them for what they’re doing. When you help out at the food bank, you see a whole charitable organization set up just to reach people who are in need, who don’t have enough of something. The people in these organizations are very selfless, kind, and serving. A lot of times, we think of ourselves as the example, but we can also look at these people and realize that they have an example to show us. Sometimes we need to take a step back and see that we can learn from the people outside, as well. We can learn from that greater community—it has a lot to teach us!”