Hey, you there. Do you have your mandatory 40 volunteer hours yet?

If not, lucky you, because volunteer hours have never been as easy to obtain as they are now. There’s never been a wider range of opportunities for you to gather your hours. In fact, you barely have to do anything; you can just join one of the many clubs offering 40 hours for a year’s participation. There’s no excuse to not have your hours anymore, is there?

This school year, staff advisors of school clubs were given the go ahead to sign off volunteer hours for club members at their own discretion. Previously, volunteer hours offered by clubs had to be cleared by SAC during the club registration process. The need for approval was eliminated this year, as it was seen as somewhat redundant.

Last year, MGCI also quietly dropped the Garneau Gold system that the school had offered for a number of years, due to a general consensus that the award itself had no real merit beyond face value. After Garneau Gold’s removal, volunteer hours for clubs became a substantially more prominent incentive for students to consider. As a result, many clubs began offering hours to draw in members, since now all that was necessary was the staff advisor’s signature.

With the new policy, volunteer hours have practically been rebranded as a type of currency to attract new members. While events like the Thirty Hour Famine and Eliminate Night promote worthy causes, their promise of a relatively substantial amount of hours included with the commitment of a monetary pledge makes it tremendously easy for students lacking hours to simply hand over some cash and receive a checkmark on their record with minimal effort.  It’s true that offering hours does in fact increase participation for charitable events, resulting in more funds and awareness. However, obtaining volunteer hours really shouldn’t be as simple as indirectly buying them. Volunteer hours should reflect your commitment to the community. Their current representation not only obscures commitment but also erodes existing value, as a mass of volunteer hours becomes less and less impressive. Volunteer hours should be a general representation of an individual’s dedication across a variety of outlets.  Can you truly be proud of the hours you’ve obtained by spending the night at school or pledging not to eat for 30 hours? Likewise, should hours obtained with inadequate commitment count towards the mandatory requirement?

Just like real currency, a sudden increase in opportunities for hours also results in depreciation. The 40 minimum hours become dwarfed in comparison as more and more students attain hundreds of hours on record. If hours have become so easy to attain, a minimum amount is also essentially pointless.

All this leads us to question the fundamental concept of volunteer hours. If volunteer hours can be obtained as easily as eating lunch in a certain room once a week, then what value do they retain? Volunteer hours, by definition, entail time put in to volunteerism. However, there are a great number of ways through which these hours can be attained, further and further stretching what one may consider “volunteerism” in the first place. The numerical measurement becomes redundant once the minimum requirement has been achieved, no matter where these hours came from. However, it is still noteworthy to point out that a great number of hours in one single place can nonetheless show commitment and dedication.

If volunteer hours should remain a mandatory requirement to graduate in order to inspire students to take on community involvement, then the hours themselves should be more strictly controlled to ensure what is done to reach that requirement is indeed worthy of that ideal. Currently, there are guidelines for what qualifies as community service but these guidelines seem not to be formally considered, in light of the fact that sitting in a room designated a “charity club” once a week is sufficient to gather hours. Stricter and more well-defined criteria for what activities qualify as volunteerism would ensure hours recorded for the purpose of fulfilling the requirement are productive and meaningful.

While volunteer hours themselves don’t do much harm to anyone, what should be recognized is that the system has transitioned from  just a regulated record for school administrations to check off, to a fluffed up ego boost for students, granting them shallow merit for their actions. Volunteer hours are not a genuine reflection of a student’s community involvement, but rather a more formal way to promote involvement. The hours themselves are obtained too easily for there to be a coherent sense of achievement in receiving them; nonetheless, they remain an incentive to coax students into joining activities they might not otherwise consider. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but their lack of legitimacy makes it hard to justify their place on the list of requirements to graduate. If there is genuine desire by the current education system to see earnest community involvement by each and every student, the mandatory requirement should be reformed to precisely define volunteering.