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What is Community Service?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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When someone performs an action which benefits his or her community, it is known as community service. Some people associate community service with punishment, since it is often offered to small-time offenders as an alternative to fines or jail time. However, community service can also be altruistic, and it is a vital part of many small communities. Getting involved in your community makes it healthier and livelier, and numerous organizations around the world support community service activities.

Things which could be considered community service include tutoring children, building homes in low income areas with Habitat for Humanity, assisting the elderly, socializing animals at animal shelters, being a museum docent, performing habitat restoration, contributing to the operations of volunteer fire departments and emergency services, or helping with civic beautification. In all cases, community service work is performed by volunteers who are not paid for their time. In some instances, the work would not be accomplished without the work of such volunteers, and many small organizations rely on people with community spirit to survive.

For people who are given community service as a punishment or sentence, it can be an opportunity to atone for a crime. Others engage in community service out of a spirit of altruism, or a desire to connect with their communities by helping out. For people who are new to a community, community service can be a great way to learn more about the place in which they live and the people they live with. Community service may also be required for things like high school graduation or membership in an organization, in which case the school or organization often helps to organize community service opportunities.

For people who are not affiliated with an organization, finding community service opportunities is easy. In many cases, an organization which needs the assistance of volunteers has a volunteer coordinator. Contact the organization you are interested in to ask about volunteers, or check bulletin boards around town for organized community service activities. You may find anything from a group of birdwatchers performing habitat restoration in a local wetlands to an association of businesses sponsoring graffiti cleanup.

Many people engage in community service because they believe that it carries rewards beyond the obvious and tangible. Clearly, engaging in things like environmental restoration and civic beautification will make your life enjoyable by making the world around you more pleasant. But community service can also help to ensure that important services like meals for the elderly and volunteer fire departments continue to run. It also helps to build a rich and supportive community of people who know each other and lend each other a hand when it is needed.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By dakota4x4 — On Oct 12, 2017

I live in a town of 300 people. I noticed a cop comes from a larger town and picks up his friend and his friend drives him around in the cop car. Seems to me that would be against the law. Other people has questioned him about it. All he says its called community services. Just don't sound right to me. Anyone have any input to this. Thanks.

By golf07 — On Nov 22, 2012

I have a soft spot for animals so volunteer at my local animal shelter. There are several community service volunteers who 'work' here, and I don't know what the shelter would do without all their help.

My family also likes to serve meals to a homeless mission during the holiday season. This can be a real eye-opener for the kids. It only took one time before they started asking every year if we were going to do this again.

By SarahSon — On Nov 21, 2012

I work with our youth group at church, and this is one thing we really encourage our kids to do. We also have community service projects lined up for them to participate in.

Many times we will take one Saturday a month to help the elderly in our church. This means doing anything they need done that makes life a little bit easier for them.

We have done things like raking leaves, mowing the grass, washing the windows, cleaning their house, putting up and taking down Christmas decorations and even running errands for them.

It is so interesting to see the relationships that form from these projects. The elderly are so thankful and appreciative and it gives the kids a wonderful opportunity to learn how to serve without expecting anything in return. What they discover, like other people have posted on, is that they receive more out of it than they ever realized they would.

By John57 — On Nov 21, 2012

When my son was in high school he was required to perform so many hours of community service. There are so many community service opportunities available it should not be hard to find something you can be involved in.

He volunteered at the local community theater and worked backstage running the lights and sound. This was something he already had an interest in, but it still introduced him the the idea of volunteering. He is now in his 20's and is still involved in community theater.

By LisaLou — On Nov 20, 2012

I always find it sad that community service programs are sometimes associated with punishment. When I have been involved in community service in any way, I think I am the one who gets the most benefit from it. There is something very satisfying about helping other people. It doesn't matter if you volunteer your time or you are required to do it, you realize it truly is better to give than to receive.

By Ivan83 — On Nov 11, 2012
There are many non profit organizations that have some political aim. Is it still considered community service if you work for an organization that has an explicit political agenda? Wouldn't this more appropriately be thought of as community transformation?
By backdraft — On Nov 11, 2012

These days many colleges and even high schools have a student community service requirement. When I was in college we had to do 20 hours of service in the community every semester.

It was not especially hard. The school had lists of dozens of institutions that would take volunteers any time they showed up. I ended up working at an animal shelter, a breast cancer awareness organization, and a group that promoted water conservation. Every experience was rewarding, and it was a nice antidote to all the time I wasted while I was in college.

By gravois — On Nov 10, 2012

I ended up getting sentenced to do community service by the courts for reasons that I will not get into here.

I chose to do my service at a rescue shelter for cats. I loves cats and when I heard about this shelter I thought it would present the perfect opportunity to meet my service requirements while also supporting a cause I feel strongly about.

My service finished up about 6 months ago but I am still volunteering at the shelter because I find the work so meaningful.

By anon244310 — On Jan 31, 2012

Plus, community service is fun.

By anon217867 — On Sep 27, 2011

I was given community service to complete over three months. I did not go as i could not because of depression following courts and sentencing, and I was sent a letter telling me that it was going back to court for reassessment and I was asked to attend.

I moved abroad before, and yes that was foolish. I am still abroad but need to go back to uk to see my children. What will happen when I return to UK? Thank you in advance for a reply

By anon183103 — On Jun 03, 2011

what happens if your hours aren't done on a certain day that was given to you?

By anon162587 — On Mar 24, 2011

many thanks to the author for his numerous contributions. i will suggest that companies should be educated more on community service so as to give back to the host communities.

By anon138765 — On Jan 02, 2011

I did my community service on the computer at community service help. Forget doing it the hard way! peace

By anon112636 — On Sep 21, 2010

i know what it is now!

By anon86030 — On May 23, 2010

This webpage is a real eye opener.It gives ideas for what one can do for the positive benefit of the community.

By anon80117 — On Apr 26, 2010

it is good information.

By anon72430 — On Mar 23, 2010

a friendly user tool. keep up the good work!

By anon72407 — On Mar 23, 2010

Just the information I needed.

By anon70245 — On Mar 12, 2010

great information, really helpful!

By anon55595 — On Dec 08, 2009

this site is cool

By anon51066 — On Nov 03, 2009

Thanks to the author who wrote this article. I would add that service as a punishment or for atonement should be called community restitution not community service.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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