Students reflect on community service opportunities at BHS


Berkeley High School has a wide variety of clubs, with a total of 115 listed on their website as of Oct. 28. There are 14 different club categories listed on the website as well, the third largest being service-oriented clubs with 18 registered clubs.

According to Chief of Service Gursimar Kaur, while many people expect community service to be a large commitment, that’s not necessarily always the case. “You can do service to the community on a daily basis,” Kaur said. “Sometimes students stay behind class to help out their teacher with something, or sometimes students may do something that’s a really nice action for another person. That’s sort of like community service.” She added that community service is often broader and more present in the community than many students take it to be.

One recent community service event was a fundraising bake sale organized by the National Honors Society (NHS). Theo Gerst, one of the co-presidents, explained that they were donating all of the money to the non-profit No Kid Hungry. “They’re a pretty large organization, and they give grants and fund different schools and communities in order to provide meals for kids that cannot otherwise afford them,” Gerst said. “Ideally, it wouldn’t be an issue in our country that people aren’t getting food. We’re just trying to help out.”

Best Buddies, an international organization and club at BHS, has a different approach to community service. They focus on creating a community for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), and mostly just provide a space for students to hang out and make friends. “The main mission is to foster friendships and create an environment where IDDs are destigmatized and welcomed,” said Ian Segall, the club’s president. “In the club meetings, we really just hang out. There’s not really too much that we do because the main goal of the club is to foster friendships. I organize field trips. We do IDD campaigns where we try to educate our community on intellectual developmental differences, and we try to destigmatize them.”

The pandemic has created some difficulties for certain community service events. For example, Kaur is currently working on organizing an alternative to the BHS holiday meal, an event that BHS has been hosting for decades. “It was discontinued in light of COVID-19 protocols. Bringing it back is kind of a challenge because obviously COVID-19 is still a concern,” Kaur said. “Because we can’t have that many people on campus for a holiday meal type of situation, I was thinking of making it a to-go format where we can create bags of essential things that families will need, and give those out.”

Best Buddies has also been affected by the pandemic. “Unfortunately, COVID-19 hit, so I didn’t get to experience a year and a half of (Best Buddies),” Segall said. “It was really hard to do field trips last year, so we weren’t able to do any.” However, this year the club has plans to go on a field trip to the California Academy of Sciences and take a trip to the movies. The club also has a few more events planned for the year. “There’s this thing called the Best Buddies Friendship Walk, which happens in San Francisco every year,”  Segall said. “Best Buddies clubs from all different high schools come and go on a parade type thing. It’s kind of a big fundraiser.”

From organizing fundraisers to just being empathetic and compassionate towards others, Kaur explained that there are many ways to be active in the BHS community. When it comes to getting involved in community service for the first time, she said that it’s best to find something students passionate about and go for it. 

“There are a lot of friendly organizations welcoming volunteers all the time, and you’ll fit right in.” She also recommended bringing friends along for extra support when trying new things.

“In general, giving back (to the community) is something super important,” said Skyler Rockmael, co-president of NHS. She explained how community service can improve Berkeley  as a whole, even if it’s the work of only one individual. “Helping people helps the person, and it also helps you. It builds character, it builds community. I think there’s so many benefits.”

Segall expanded more on the drawbacks of not being involved in community service. 

“You can feel really distant and isolated,” Segall said. “(It) really limits your capacity for growth if you’re only really focused on yourself and you’re not looking at other people’s experiences within a community.”