Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Church of the Best Buy

In yesterday's Columbus Dispatch there was a small ad for the Best Buy Scholarship fund. I don't think I own BB stock, but I shop at Best Buy once a year for my son-in-law--it sells "consumer electronics, home-office products, entertainment software, appliances and related services through more than 1,200 retail stores across the United States, throughout Canada and in China." Volunteerism figures prominently at its corporate website. 1500 of the scholarships (non-renewable) are $1,500, but 51 are for $10,000--well worth taking the time to apply.

The ad I saw was all words, but shaped like a human, and it listed all the volunteer activities high school students might be doing which would qualify them for a Best Buy college scholarship. It was really quite clever and well done. Here's the list, and notice #14. (I added the numbers.)
    1. Worked at the local food pantry.
    2. Mentor
    3. Picked up garbage off the freeway
    4. Delivered meals on wheels.
    5. Tutored a 2nd grader.
    6. Walked the neighbor's 2 dogs.
    7. Visited residents at a nursing home.
    8. Rang the ------ (unreadable) for a total of --??--- hours.
    9. Raked leaves for elderly people.
    10. Mentor for a 3rd grader,.
    11. Mowed the lawn for a handicapped neighbor for the past 4 summers.
    12. Shoveled snow for Mrs. Jones.
    13. Volunteered at a book drive to raise money for children's literacy.
    14. Got a B+ on my chemistry test.
    15. Organized a school blood drive,.
    16. Basketball coach for 5th grade boys.
    17. Read to toddlers at the local bookstore.
    18. Children's summer program assistant.
    19. Wildlife nursery volunteer.
    20. Cooked for homeless teens on the week-end.
The only academic item on this list is a B+ in chemistry, and it is so different than the others, (it was the left arm of the figure), it almost looks like an error. The scholarship does have a grade point requirement, and obviously, the selectors are not looking for a teen who did all of this. In fact, a B+ in chemistry won't get you far in academic competitions--perhaps that's why it was included, to encourage the less than stellar students to apply.

What I like about this list is, 1) specificity, and 2) age appropriateness. They are not asking 15 year olds to go out and organize farm workers, picket abortion clinics, sleep on the streets with the homeless, or build homes for low income people. The list just by appearing in the paper shows that everyone, no matter how young, can do something close to home (and close to a Best Buy store, which is part of the FAQ). Only #20 seems out of place, considering the logistics and exclusivity of the idea (a pizza party with other teens sounds like a better idea to me rather than let-me-help you-feel-inadequate).

I think it is nice that Best Buy is a good corporate citizen, that it helps the communities from which it earns its income, and that its employees have opportunities to volunteer. However, I also believe its first commitment has to be to its real mission, to make money honestly in an ethical manner for its investors, which will in turn be good for its employees, the U.S. economy and the global economy.

This is a good lesson for youth staff of churches--as long as they keep in mind their real mission, which is to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ--his life, death and resurrection--discipling their youth to move out into the community, and not just compiling to-do lists to keep their young, affluent members busy with feel-good projects. Nothing is wasted in God's economy, so even if the project benefits no one, God can bless. But how much better to not innoculate children against true mercy and kindness when there might be a better lesson in their own school or home.

[Most of this is cross-posted from Collecting My Thoughts]

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