Community service hours have become an important part of competing for college scholarships, especially Florida Bright Futures scholarships, as seniors at Baker County High School well know.
At one level, such volunteerism is performed with the knowledge that it’s required to help achieve financial security for college, but for one Glen St. Mary senior, Sarah Whitehead, being a volunteer is just a natural part of her personality and her life.
Some scholarships only require 30 hours of community service for a candidate to qualify. To date, Ms. Whitehead, 17, has racked up a whopping 531 hours since her freshman year as well as countless hours of volunteering that are not documented.
And this altruistic student has no intention of putting the breaks on her volunteer endeavors any time soon.
It all started with her aunt Amanda McCook, a teacher at Callahan Elementary.
“My Aunt Amanda and I were practically joined at the hip when I was younger,” she explained during an interview with The Press November 14.
“I was always going with her to her school and so I just got involved in whatever was going on,” she said.
During the summer she often helped her aunt prepare for the upcoming school year. When she was older she got involved in helping students with art projects during the school’s Friday Family Nights. Later she assisted with filing and grading papers. This scenario would become the source of many of her community service hours needed by the scholarship program.
“I was always by my aunt’s side,” she explained. “Getting involved and helping just became natural to me. And I grew to love working with kids. That’s one reason I entered the high school’s health academy. I want to be a pediatrician.”
That goal is definitely on the horizon. When she graduates this spring, she will only be a semester away from an associate’s degree in health science. Then she plans to enter the University of North Florida to earn her nursing degree. After that, she’ll probably tackle medical school.
Meanwhile she will just keep volunteering.
“I simply cannot be idle,” she admits. “I have to be busy, to have plans to do something.”
She has worked with Habitat for Humanity, cleaning up debris from house construction sites and even helping with plumbing.
“Whatever was needed, we did it,” she said.
She’s been out in 95-degree heat for hours cooking at food booths to benefit civic organizations such as The Rotary Club.
She loves her church and helps out any way she can and she does volunteer work in line with her chosen future profession.
Volunteering is not always a walk in the park, she’s discovered, but in the long run, always worth it.
“Sometimes the most important thing is the ability to have patience,” said Ms. Whitehead.
She found that out while volunteering for the school district’s hearing and vision screenings done in conjunction with the Baker County Health Department.
“Patience was very important with all the children and especially the disabled or special needs children. They can get quickly confused by the experience, get frustrated easily if they don’t understand the directions and so discouraged when they don’t score well,” she said.
She came to learn how challenging communication can be, but that it’s important to just keep at it until a way is found to help children understand.
After working with the elementary schools’ screenings, she was reluctant to volunteer to do a stint with the PreK-Kindergarten Center.
But her guidance counselor Debbie Charko talked her into it.
“I’m glad I listened,” she admits now. “The children were awesome. Such innocence, such joy at getting the correct answer. I’m so glad I experienced the PreK as well as the other grade levels.”
Last summer Ms. Whitehead’s volunteer service helped her earn a Rotary Youth Leadership Association scholarship to a week-long leadership camp in St. Augustine.
There she had her most cherished volunteer experience to date, working with children at the St. Augustine YMCA.
She fell in love with every single one.
And the leadership camp experience helped her cross paths with people she would have never met otherwise, people of all races and backgrounds.
“I’m sort of a quiet person by nature and not that outgoing,” she admitted. “It’s actually a challenge for me to put myself out there and get involved. Volunteering has helped me grow a lot in that respect.”
So what’s her future dream volunteering gig?
“That would be administering polio vaccine to children in a third world country,” she said.