12/08/2011 08:54 am ET Updated Feb 07, 2012


Crack open a People magazine or flip through the entertainment section of any publication and expect to be accosted by pictures of the celebrity de jour sporting Manola Blahniks and toting a Prada. But then come the holidays, when the pricey handbag is swapped for a metal ladle, and the demigods seem to congregate at homeless shelters. Are their intentions real? Actually, does it matter?

This is not just a Hollywood problem -- we see it every day at high schools. Colleges want to see a well-rounded resume and high schools recognize this. They require we put in some community service hours. So we troop off to nursing homes to entertain the aged, to schools in the inner city to tutor the middle schoolers, and to homeless shelters to cook for the less fortunate. Some of the more creative of us will jaunt off to Kenya or India to dig fresh water wells or start a microfinance initiative. And, those of us that want to attend Ivy Leagues will plan out the perfect stimulus package for the economy of Mars. Are our intentions real? Actually, does it matter?

"Forced" altruism or otherwise, it has interesting long term effects.

Mandated volunteerism forces kids to find organizations which pique their passion. Many kids would never hear about various global issues had they not been forced to find an organization affiliated with the problem. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service Bureau, 55 percent of kids aged 12-18 engage in volunteer activities, nearly double the adult population who engage in such activities. America prides itself on being a nation who extends a helping hand to any country that needs it. This ethos was not founded at birth. This is a learned habit -- it is developed. Board Chair at HR Council for the Nonprofit Sector's president, Marlene Deboisbriand said, ""We do have very clear research that shows the earlier we get citizens involved in volunteering, the more likely they are to be lifelong volunteers."

So to those who are skeptical about the motives behind high school volunteering -- I say, "It's going to be OK." No matter how it's spun, volunteerism yields positive benefits. Forced or not, it produces similar results. The destitute receive their deserved respect, the less fortunate are uplifted, and we do our good deeds. Let's hope we retain some semblance of this as we exit our high school years and move into adulthood.