WEST PALM BEACH
There's a move in the Florida Legislature to take the word "community" out of community service.
High-achieving high school students applying for the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship Program have been required to complete 100 hours of community service as part of the requirements for this lottery-funded program.
In order to be eligible to receive the state-funded tuition assistance, students that meet the requirements for grade-point averages and college entrance test scores have also had to do community service in an area that addresses a "social problem" that interests them.
Apparently, the words "social problem" and "community" make some Florida lawmakers feel like Che Guevara.
So there's a bill in the Florida Senate that will remove those words, and instead allow Bright Futures applicants to complete "volunteer" work in such non-charitable areas as doing unpaid work "on behalf of a candidate for public office" or for a business.
Talk about child abuse.
It's bad enough that after graduating college, these smart kids will enter a job market where they routinely will be overworked and underpaid by corporations who don't trickle down enough of their profits to allow their low-level employees to make a dent in their college loans.
To propose that these kids spend 100 hours of their high school days donating their labor to private businesses amounts to inappropriately rushing things -- like inviting a 10-year-old into an "R"-rated movie.
Even more perverse is encouraging these kids to satisfy their public service requirement by working on a political campaign, especially if that campaign happens to conform to an I-got-mine-so-screw-you philosophy.
Don't tread on my community service!
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who filed the bill, told The News Service of Florida that volunteering on campaigns and for businesses would help these high school kids "to give something back to our state."
But it just trashes the word "community" for something entirely selfish.
It's not only my opinion. It's also the opinion of the United States Congress, which offers 14- to 23-year-olds medals for something called The Congressional Award, a program that measures their accomplishments in four areas: volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness, and expedition/exploration.
The Congressional Award specifically mentions that volunteering for a political campaign or for a business are not to be counted as public service.
"Service volunteered at private businesses does not qualify for volunteer public service, but may count as personal development," the guidelines for the Congressional Award state. "Volunteer service must be non partisan ... working for an elected official and working for a political campaign are not acceptable volunteer public service activities."
I think that's right. Being an unpaid intern for a business or on a political campaign doesn't necessarily have to be a bad experience. It can be an enlightening or mind-expanding bit of personal development. And maybe it will be a good resume builder that will help you on your resume down the road.
But it's not the same thing as volunteering at a soup kitchen or cleaning a public beach.
Personal development is helping yourself. And that shouldn't be confused with community service.
Frank Cerabino, writes for The Palm Beach Post. E-mail: email@example.com.