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Something to SMILE about [Editorial]

ThanksgivingSchoolsHigh Schools

While it's unfortunate that the organization that served as a model for the community service requirement that is part of the public high school experience in Maryland no longer exists, there's something of a silver lining to the situation: the organization's signature event, a community Thanksgiving dinner, will go on as usual.

SMILES, an acronym for Service Makes an Individual's Life Extra Special, was formed about a quarter of a century ago at Havre de Grace High School as an extracurricular activity for students who wanted to volunteer in ways that would help the community.

The volunteers, with the help of faculty advisor Don Osman, took on the task of organizing a Thanksgiving dinner that would be served not a day early or a day late, but on Thanksgiving Day. Such an undertaking was a big deal for anyone, as family commitments often trump calls for volunteers. Considering it was teens deciding to give up their holiday - and the impact of that on their families - made it that stronger a statement.

Possibly, it was the strength of that initial decision to give up a comfortable Thanksgiving for one of service, but for some reason the idea took hold and became a tradition.

Originally billed as an event put on to provide a traditional Thanksgiving meal for those who are less fortunate or didn't have anyone to share the day with, the SMILES meal eventually grew into an all inclusive event, with a cross section of Havre de Grace participating.

SMILES took on many other community service ventures and became something of a model for when Maryland adopted a community service element to its high school graduation requirements.

Unfortunately, there was something of a flaw in community service being made a requirement. SMILES was a student volunteer organization, and requiring community service, by definition, means that service is compelled, not the result of volunteer work.

SMILES persisted, even thrived, after community service became a high school requirement, but it was just a matter of time before it would cease to be extra special as it had been when it was all volunteer.

Community service is written into the day-to-day operations of the school system, so it is incorporated into the school day. While it's good for students to learn about the value of community service, there's something sad about that requirement eventually resulting in the demise of what had been a volunteer student organization.

Still, it seems the spirit of SMILES lives on, at least for another Thanksgiving in Havre de Grace. Osman, now retired, and other volunteers have joined forces to serve a Thanksgiving dinner in Havre de Grace again this year. When it appeared the event would come up short, the community came forward with donations and Osman was confident last week the $4,000 it would take to feed a typical crowd had been raised.

In all, SMILES leaves a solid legacy both in terms of being an example of teens learning about the importance community service, and in terms of the Thanksgiving tradition that seems to have become strong enough to survive on its own.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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