Written by Elizabeth Clarke, Palm Beach Post, 2003
Andrew Weatherill did his first community service project in middle school.
He and some friends cleaned up a playground at an abandoned school in their low-income neighborhood outside western Philadelphia. They pulled weeds, picked up garbage and collected knives and syringes from Old School Park in Parkesburg, Pa.
"It took us one day to clean it all up, and it meant so much," said Weatherill, now a junior at Palm Beach Atlantic University. "Kids started coming to the park again."
That project was a whim for Weatherill, done to make the park safe for little kids. A few years later, he cleaned up another park, this one in central Philadelphia, and started an inner-city hockey league for kids of all incomes.
Since then, community service has become his soul and his center.
It guided his choice of colleges: He selected Palm Beach Atlantic for its Workship program, which requires full-time, traditional undergraduates to perform 45 hours a year of community service. (He's done closer to 100 hours each year.) It guided his path of study: psychology with a minor in Christian leadership. And he expects that his passion for service will define his career and his life: He plans to work with low-income children.
"I think it's so good to see people lifting a hand, lifting a rake, whatever, just helping out," he said. "I think it brings together communities. I think it brings together religions, races, everything."
But Weatherill, 24, is part of what many educators, pastors and others call a rare breed these days: young adults who feel duty-bound to serve or a moral imperative to give something back to their community or their country.
Take Pat Tillman, the former NFL player who walked away from a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to join the Army Rangers. He didn't give any interviews after quitting football, but friends said he had been deeply affected by Sept. 11 and yearned to do something for his country.
Consider Lance Cpl. Andrew Julian Aviles of Tampa. He died in Iraq almost two weeks ago, just months after delaying his scholarship to Florida State University because he felt a duty to serve his country and joined the Army. The former high school student government president, cheerleader, wrestler, ROTC cadet and National Honor Society member wanted to emulate the service he saw throughout his family.
"He took it as a moral obligation because of our ideals about the military," said his uncle, John Aviles. "We're from the old school. We felt military service is something everybody in the family should do. He felt very strong about it."
But a strong desire to serve simply doesn't arise in many young people.
Ask Debbie Nowell, director of Palm Beach Atlantic's Workship program for the past four years. She receives many visits each semester where students tick off reasons - work, study, whatever - they can't complete their service hours.
"We deal with kids all the time who falsify documents, and their parents support them in the falsification," Nowell said, referring to the papers required to verify service hours.
That probably wouldn't surprise the Rev. Brian King of St. Juliana Catholic Church and School in West Palm Beach. He spends much of his time explaining the need for community service to students and parents. St. Juliana requires 75 hours from its eighth-graders, and Catholic high schools require 25 hours a year - just 30 minutes a week. Still, he gets whiners, both children and adults.
He doesn't stand for it, though.
"Any child who can't do a half-hour of service a week doesn't deserve to be in Catholic school," he said. "And I'll be the first to sign the papers to expel you. If you can't spend five minutes a day doing something nice for somebody, you have no right to call yourself a Christian."
Other students easily complete 160 hours or more of service each year, King said. And they still manage to juggle school, homework, sports and clubs along with video games, movies and computer time, just like their whining friends who complete just five hours of service.
Why do some understand and even enjoy the obligation and duty to service while others find it burdensome?
Environment, these experts say.
"Do the parents model a joyful image of service to the children?" King said. If parents or friends or others in the child's life don't give back to their communities, the children won't do so either.
"The thing I can see that they have in common is, quite frankly, they come from homes where they are taught this is really important," Nowell said. "Where it's been modeled as a priority, it's learned as a child that you help other people. This is just a part of how you live."
That's the case for Kimberly Warner, a Palm Beach Atlantic sophomore who has performed more than 122 Workship hours in two years, and for Jupiter High School junior Ashley Koester, who has done about 350 hours of service in the past three years, and for Weatherill, who is also paying his own way through college.
Warner's parents didn't model a life of service, but she saw her brother give of his time. Koester's mom volunteers throughout the community and encouraged her daughter to start early. Weatherill's brother joined the Marines, and his grandparents spent most of their lives as missionaries in Kenya.
"They have had a great effect on me, as they have loved and encouraged me so much," he wrote in an e-mail. "They did so much to help my mom and family with no complaints. My grammy was a literal saint and my grandfather was a loving, joking angel. I only hope I could be like them some day."
These students all struggle to explain, and perhaps even understand, why they're different from other kids.
Koester said maybe she's more outgoing. Warner thinks her involvement as a leader in the Workship program makes it easier for her to connect with the work and with the people she's helping, reaching a deeper level of involvement than other students.
Weatherill thinks God gave him this talent for community service, something others might not have. "I just feel like my passion, my gift, is for serving others," he said. He absolutely understands the motivation of Lance Cpl. Andrew Julian Aviles, who gave up a scholarship and lost his life in Iraq.
"Some people have a passion, and that's just 10 times more important than anything that can be given, regardless if it's $100,000 or whatever," he said. "You go for what you want to do. The money doesn't make you happy. Doing what you're meant to do is what's truly satisfying."