Most of your typical community service experiences follow a similar pattern of interesting, yet demanding work, filled with many new challenges, revelations and a profound feelings of self-fulfillment and satisfaction. My community service experience, however, was quite… different.
During my senior high school year, every Friday after classes I would drive some half an hour across the town to reach my community service location. It was a charity organization (which shall, for my own safety, remain unnamed) specializing mostly in coordinating local blood drives. It seemed like a far shot from my interests in technology, with the only link being, perhaps, the fact that the product of both the organization’s actions and my online video gaming was “lots of blood.” Nonetheless, I was able to find a matching position, taking care of the volunteer databases, storing and organizing the information, as well as preparing monthly reports.
It was a hard and unforgiving job, but I did it for the community – the community man! But in all seriousness, it wasn’t terribly difficult and I already possessed all the necessary skills for the job. So, Microsoft Excel spreadsheet-full days flew by rapidly, giving me a nice and satisfactory illusion of actually doing something useful. After a couple of months, when my technological aptitude and dedication were noticed, I was trusted with more complicated tasks. Only then did I begin to notice all the wonderful blemishes and paradoxes that would finally lead me to quitting.
It began when I first talked to my supervisor about a yearly report. I mentioned how many volunteers we have per month to which the volunteer coordinator replied with his own observations and data. Long story short, we were missing one third of all the volunteer data. This crucial thirty-three point three (repeating) percent is, statistically, an astronomic sum that basically renders whatever the results of the reports may be as completely inaccurate and, thus, useless.
But it wasn’t that simple fact that startled me, but rather, the reaction of my supervisor who didn’t even blink at this huge error margin and instantly came up with a brilliant solution. The solution, that is, being throwing away my hours of work in the dumpster and coming up with her own imaginary estimations, with the scholarly and empirical assistance of a Papermate™ pen and an OfficeMax™ writing pad.
On the upside, at least my supervisor wanted to overhaul our database system to something more efficient and accurate. We had a team of graduating computer science students at a certain university design a full blown volunteer database software for us. You know these type of students, working on their master thesis, trying to get some real world experience and a few good and professional letters of recommendation; they will slave away to create the most perfect product, catering to even the smallest of your needs. As I volunteered to beta test the application, I can say that it was indeed a very nice piece of programming that would definitely fulfill our needs and make my job much easier. When the project was near completion, my supervisor, for reasons unknown to me (perhaps the color of the “OK” button was slightly off), decided to scrap it and, instead, buy an online database system. Months of free and customized development gone to waste.
Soon after, realizing the futility of the operations of my department, I was gone from the place. The sheer disorganization and data fiddling makes me wonder about the whole “make a difference!” slogan. In any case, if I ever want to save a life in the future, I would much rather pour my blood directly into someone’s veins than donate to a charity.