Missing the Point

by Rob Valet | 5/10/00 5:00am

On Saturday night, some of my fraternity brothers and I went to the dance marathon for a couple of hours. The CFSC had decided the marathon would be a nice, easy (as well as highly visible) service event, and therefore it signed all the houses up. I worry that many of the people who went, though, missed the point of the event -- the dance marathon was supposed to bring Dartmouth students together with the staff, patients, and families from CHaD, not provide easy community service for Dartmouth students.

I know I certainly missed the point. To me, when we arrived at 10 p.m., it looked like Dartmouth students were having a good time dancing, but not much else seemed to be going on. Only later, when I contacted the person who put the dance marathon together, Kim Alexander '01, did I find out more about the day's events. Patients from the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD), which the marathon benefited, came to dance along with their families and health care providers. Kim showed me a picture of the little girl with leukemia for whom she wanted to organize the marathon. Not only was the marathon a great time for everyone, especially the kids, but it also ended up raising about $5,000 for CHaD.

I know I certainly missed a lot during my time there -- in all honesty my original suspicion was that the marathon spent more money on glow-sticks than it would ultimately raise for the hospital -- and I worry a lot of other people did too. This event had a lot more to it than met the eye -- at least at 10 at night when we were there and all the kids had already gotten tired and gone home.

It would be a shame if the marathon slid by without any recognition, and it would be a shame if people got the impression that this was nothing more than another example of the mail-the-check-later volunteer work we see too much of around here. How often do you see the Greek-carwash-to-benefit-whoever school of community service in action? The problem with that is that it doesn't force us out of the Dartmouth bubble and into the real world -- we conduct our own events amongst ourselves and mail a check later. Sending that check doesn't really make a whole lot of difference in anyone else's life, though.

Even at the dance marathon I imagine some of the people there only came because it would be easy -- you know, just dance for a while at Collis. What if the organizers asked whether, instead of dancing in the 10 hour marathon, everyone would be willing to come to the children's hospital for an hour or two that Saturday afternoon to play with the kids? I don't think nearly as many people would have done it -- interacting with real people with real problems is a big dose of reality. Certainly it's less fun than dancing around with glow-sticks in hand.

I know that plenty of good service work does go on here at Dartmouth. I love the time I spend at David's House, especially my current evening shift when a lot of families are around eating dinner and want to talk about how their kids are doing in the hospital. I know people who are involved in Book Buddies and Big Brother/Big Sister, who volunteer at DHMC or who are involved any of the other myriad of opportunities available to us that do make a difference in other people's lives. While there's certainly nothing wrong with a charity carwash now and again, I hope we resist the temptation to perform too much "community service" by staying on campus and mailing checks. There's too much that needs to be fixed in the world around us to not venture out of the Dartmouth bubble.