How to Write the Community Essay – Guide with Examples (2023-24)

September 6, 2023

community essay examples

Students applying to college this year will inevitably confront the community essay. In fact, most students will end up responding to several community essay prompts for different schools. For this reason, you should know more than simply how to approach the community essay as a genre. Rather, you will want to learn how to decipher the nuances of each particular prompt, in order to adapt your response appropriately. In this article, we’ll show you how to do just that, through several community essay examples. These examples will also demonstrate how to avoid cliché and make the community essay authentically and convincingly your own.

Emphasis on Community

Do keep in mind that inherent in the word “community” is the idea of multiple people. The personal statement already provides you with a chance to tell the college admissions committee about yourself as an individual. The community essay, however, suggests that you depict yourself among others. You can use this opportunity to your advantage by showing off interpersonal skills, for example. Or, perhaps you wish to relate a moment that forged important relationships. This in turn will indicate what kind of connections you’ll make in the classroom with college peers and professors.

Apart from comprising numerous people, a community can appear in many shapes and sizes. It could be as small as a volleyball team, or as large as a diaspora. It could fill a town soup kitchen, or spread across five boroughs. In fact, due to the internet, certain communities today don’t even require a physical place to congregate. Communities can form around a shared identity, shared place, shared hobby, shared ideology, or shared call to action. They can even arise due to a shared yet unforeseen circumstance.

What is the Community Essay All About?             

In a nutshell, the community essay should exhibit three things:

  • An aspect of yourself, 2. in the context of a community you belonged to, and 3. how this experience may shape your contribution to the community you’ll join in college.

It may look like a fairly simple equation: 1 + 2 = 3. However, each college will word their community essay prompt differently, so it’s important to look out for additional variables. One college may use the community essay as a way to glimpse your core values. Another may use the essay to understand how you would add to diversity on campus. Some may let you decide in which direction to take it—and there are many ways to go!

To get a better idea of how the prompts differ, let’s take a look at some real community essay prompts from the current admission cycle.

Sample 2023-2024 Community Essay Prompts

1) brown university.

“Students entering Brown often find that making their home on College Hill naturally invites reflection on where they came from. Share how an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you, and what unique contributions this might allow you to make to the Brown community. (200-250 words)”

A close reading of this prompt shows that Brown puts particular emphasis on place. They do this by using the words “home,” “College Hill,” and “where they came from.” Thus, Brown invites writers to think about community through the prism of place. They also emphasize the idea of personal growth or change, through the words “inspired or challenged you.” Therefore, Brown wishes to see how the place you grew up in has affected you. And, they want to know how you in turn will affect their college community.

“NYU was founded on the belief that a student’s identity should not dictate the ability for them to access higher education. That sense of opportunity for all students, of all backgrounds, remains a part of who we are today and a critical part of what makes us a world-class university. Our community embraces diversity, in all its forms, as a cornerstone of the NYU experience.

We would like to better understand how your experiences would help us to shape and grow our diverse community. Please respond in 250 words or less.”

Here, NYU places an emphasis on students’ “identity,” “backgrounds,” and “diversity,” rather than any physical place. (For some students, place may be tied up in those ideas.) Furthermore, while NYU doesn’t ask specifically how identity has changed the essay writer, they do ask about your “experience.” Take this to mean that you can still recount a specific moment, or several moments, that work to portray your particular background. You should also try to link your story with NYU’s values of inclusivity and opportunity.

3) University of Washington

“Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the UW. (300 words max) Tip: Keep in mind that the UW strives to create a community of students richly diverse in cultural backgrounds, experiences, values and viewpoints.”

UW ’s community essay prompt may look the most approachable, for they help define the idea of community. You’ll notice that most of their examples (“families,” “cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood”…) place an emphasis on people. This may clue you in on their desire to see the relationships you’ve made. At the same time, UW uses the words “individual” and “richly diverse.” They, like NYU, wish to see how you fit in and stand out, in order to boost campus diversity.

Writing Your First Community Essay

Begin by picking which community essay you’ll write first. (For practical reasons, you’ll probably want to go with whichever one is due earliest.) Spend time doing a close reading of the prompt, as we’ve done above. Underline key words. Try to interpret exactly what the prompt is asking through these keywords.

Next, brainstorm. I recommend doing this on a blank piece of paper with a pencil. Across the top, make a row of headings. These might be the communities you’re a part of, or the components that make up your identity. Then, jot down descriptive words underneath in each column—whatever comes to you. These words may invoke people and experiences you had with them, feelings, moments of growth, lessons learned, values developed, etc. Now, narrow in on the idea that offers the richest material and that corresponds fully with the prompt.

Lastly, write! You’ll definitely want to describe real moments, in vivid detail. This will keep your essay original, and help you avoid cliché. However, you’ll need to summarize the experience and answer the prompt succinctly, so don’t stray too far into storytelling mode.

How To Adapt Your Community Essay

Once your first essay is complete, you’ll need to adapt it to the other colleges involving community essays on your list. Again, you’ll want to turn to the prompt for a close reading, and recognize what makes this prompt different from the last. For example, let’s say you’ve written your essay for UW about belonging to your swim team, and how the sports dynamics shaped you. Adapting that essay to Brown’s prompt could involve more of a focus on place. You may ask yourself, how was my swim team in Alaska different than the swim teams we competed against in other states?

Once you’ve adapted the content, you’ll also want to adapt the wording to mimic the prompt. For example, let’s say your UW essay states, “Thinking back to my years in the pool…” As you adapt this essay to Brown’s prompt, you may notice that Brown uses the word “reflection.” Therefore, you might change this sentence to “Reflecting back on my years in the pool…” While this change is minute, it cleverly signals to the reader that you’ve paid attention to the prompt, and are giving that school your full attention.

What to Avoid When Writing the Community Essay  

  • Avoid cliché. Some students worry that their idea is cliché, or worse, that their background or identity is cliché. However, what makes an essay cliché is not the content, but the way the content is conveyed. This is where your voice and your descriptions become essential.
  • Avoid giving too many examples. Stick to one community, and one or two anecdotes arising from that community that allow you to answer the prompt fully.
  • Don’t exaggerate or twist facts. Sometimes students feel they must make themselves sound more “diverse” than they feel they are. Luckily, diversity is not a feeling. Likewise, diversity does not simply refer to one’s heritage. If the prompt is asking about your identity or background, you can show the originality of your experiences through your actions and your thinking.

Community Essay Examples and Analysis

Brown university community essay example.

I used to hate the NYC subway. I’ve taken it since I was six, going up and down Manhattan, to and from school. By high school, it was a daily nightmare. Spending so much time underground, underneath fluorescent lighting, squashed inside a rickety, rocking train car among strangers, some of whom wanted to talk about conspiracy theories, others who had bedbugs or B.O., or who manspread across two seats, or bickered—it wore me out. The challenge of going anywhere seemed absurd. I dreaded the claustrophobia and disgruntlement.

Yet the subway also inspired my understanding of community. I will never forget the morning I saw a man, several seats away, slide out of his seat and hit the floor. The thump shocked everyone to attention. What we noticed: he appeared drunk, possibly homeless. I was digesting this when a second man got up and, through a sort of awkward embrace, heaved the first man back into his seat. The rest of us had stuck to subway social codes: don’t step out of line. Yet this second man’s silent actions spoke loudly. They said, “I care.”

That day I realized I belong to a group of strangers. What holds us together is our transience, our vulnerabilities, and a willingness to assist. This community is not perfect but one in motion, a perpetual work-in-progress. Now I make it my aim to hold others up. I plan to contribute to the Brown community by helping fellow students and strangers in moments of precariousness.    

Brown University Community Essay Example Analysis

Here the student finds an original way to write about where they come from. The subway is not their home, yet it remains integral to ideas of belonging. The student shows how a community can be built between strangers, in their responsibility toward each other. The student succeeds at incorporating key words from the prompt (“challenge,” “inspired” “Brown community,” “contribute”) into their community essay.

UW Community Essay Example

I grew up in Hawaii, a world bound by water and rich in diversity. In school we learned that this sacred land was invaded, first by Captain Cook, then by missionaries, whalers, traders, plantation owners, and the U.S. government. My parents became part of this problematic takeover when they moved here in the 90s. The first community we knew was our church congregation. At the beginning of mass, we shook hands with our neighbors. We held hands again when we sang the Lord’s Prayer. I didn’t realize our church wasn’t “normal” until our diocese was informed that we had to stop dancing hula and singing Hawaiian hymns. The order came from the Pope himself.

Eventually, I lost faith in God and organized institutions. I thought the banning of hula—an ancient and pure form of expression—seemed medieval, ignorant, and unfair, given that the Hawaiian religion had already been stamped out. I felt a lack of community and a distrust for any place in which I might find one. As a postcolonial inhabitant, I could never belong to the Hawaiian culture, no matter how much I valued it. Then, I was shocked to learn that Queen Ka’ahumanu herself had eliminated the Kapu system, a strict code of conduct in which women were inferior to men. Next went the Hawaiian religion. Queen Ka’ahumanu burned all the temples before turning to Christianity, hoping this religion would offer better opportunities for her people.

Community Essay (Continued)

I’m not sure what to make of this history. Should I view Queen Ka’ahumanu as a feminist hero, or another failure in her islands’ tragedy? Nothing is black and white about her story, but she did what she thought was beneficial to her people, regardless of tradition. From her story, I’ve learned to accept complexity. I can disagree with institutionalized religion while still believing in my neighbors. I am a product of this place and their presence. At UW, I plan to add to campus diversity through my experience, knowing that diversity comes with contradictions and complications, all of which should be approached with an open and informed mind.

UW Community Essay Example Analysis

This student also manages to weave in words from the prompt (“family,” “community,” “world,” “product of it,” “add to the diversity,” etc.). Moreover, the student picks one of the examples of community mentioned in the prompt, (namely, a religious group,) and deepens their answer by addressing the complexity inherent in the community they’ve been involved in. While the student displays an inner turmoil about their identity and participation, they find a way to show how they’d contribute to an open-minded campus through their values and intellectual rigor.

What’s Next

For more on supplemental essays and essay writing guides, check out the following articles:

  • How to Write the Why This Major Essay + Example
  • How to Write the Overcoming Challenges Essay + Example
  • How to Start a College Essay – 12 Techniques and Tips
  • College Essay

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Kaylen Baker

With a BA in Literary Studies from Middlebury College, an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University, and a Master’s in Translation from Université Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Denis, Kaylen has been working with students on their writing for over five years. Previously, Kaylen taught a fiction course for high school students as part of Columbia Artists/Teachers, and served as an English Language Assistant for the French National Department of Education. Kaylen is an experienced writer/translator whose work has been featured in Los Angeles Review, Hybrid, San Francisco Bay Guardian, France Today, and Honolulu Weekly, among others.

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College Admissions , Extracurriculars


Are you applying to a college or a scholarship that requires a community service essay? Do you know how to write an essay that will impress readers and clearly show the impact your work had on yourself and others?

Read on to learn step-by-step instructions for writing a great community service essay that will help you stand out and be memorable.

What Is a Community Service Essay? Why Do You Need One?

A community service essay is an essay that describes the volunteer work you did and the impact it had on you and your community. Community service essays can vary widely depending on specific requirements listed in the application, but, in general, they describe the work you did, why you found the work important, and how it benefited people around you.

Community service essays are typically needed for two reasons:

#1: To Apply to College

  • Some colleges require students to write community service essays as part of their application or to be eligible for certain scholarships.
  • You may also choose to highlight your community service work in your personal statement.

#2: To Apply for Scholarships

  • Some scholarships are specifically awarded to students with exceptional community service experiences, and many use community service essays to help choose scholarship recipients.
  • Green Mountain College offers one of the most famous of these scholarships. Their "Make a Difference Scholarship" offers full tuition, room, and board to students who have demonstrated a significant, positive impact through their community service

Getting Started With Your Essay

In the following sections, I'll go over each step of how to plan and write your essay. I'll also include sample excerpts for you to look through so you can get a better idea of what readers are looking for when they review your essay.

Step 1: Know the Essay Requirements

Before your start writing a single word, you should be familiar with the essay prompt. Each college or scholarship will have different requirements for their essay, so make sure you read these carefully and understand them.

Specific things to pay attention to include:

  • Length requirement
  • Application deadline
  • The main purpose or focus of the essay
  • If the essay should follow a specific structure

Below are three real community service essay prompts. Read through them and notice how much they vary in terms of length, detail, and what information the writer should include.

From the Equitable Excellence Scholarship:

"Describe your outstanding achievement in depth and provide the specific planning, training, goals, and steps taken to make the accomplishment successful. Include details about your role and highlight leadership you provided. Your essay must be a minimum of 350 words but not more than 600 words."

From the Laura W. Bush Traveling Scholarship:

"Essay (up to 500 words, double spaced) explaining your interest in being considered for the award and how your proposed project reflects or is related to both UNESCO's mandate and U.S. interests in promoting peace by sharing advances in education, science, culture, and communications."

From the LULAC National Scholarship Fund:

"Please type or print an essay of 300 words (maximum) on how your academic studies will contribute to your personal & professional goals. In addition, please discuss any community service or extracurricular activities you have been involved in that relate to your goals."


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Step 2: Brainstorm Ideas

Even after you understand what the essay should be about, it can still be difficult to begin writing. Answer the following questions to help brainstorm essay ideas. You may be able to incorporate your answers into your essay.

  • What community service activity that you've participated in has meant the most to you?
  • What is your favorite memory from performing community service?
  • Why did you decide to begin community service?
  • What made you decide to volunteer where you did?
  • How has your community service changed you?
  • How has your community service helped others?
  • How has your community service affected your plans for the future?

You don't need to answer all the questions, but if you find you have a lot of ideas for one of two of them, those may be things you want to include in your essay.

Writing Your Essay

How you structure your essay will depend on the requirements of the scholarship or school you are applying to. You may give an overview of all the work you did as a volunteer, or highlight a particularly memorable experience. You may focus on your personal growth or how your community benefited.

Regardless of the specific structure requested, follow the guidelines below to make sure your community service essay is memorable and clearly shows the impact of your work.

Samples of mediocre and excellent essays are included below to give you a better idea of how you should draft your own essay.

Step 1: Hook Your Reader In

You want the person reading your essay to be interested, so your first sentence should hook them in and entice them to read more. A good way to do this is to start in the middle of the action. Your first sentence could describe you helping build a house, releasing a rescued animal back to the wild, watching a student you tutored read a book on their own, or something else that quickly gets the reader interested. This will help set your essay apart and make it more memorable.

Compare these two opening sentences:

"I have volunteered at the Wishbone Pet Shelter for three years."

"The moment I saw the starving, mud-splattered puppy brought into the shelter with its tail between its legs, I knew I'd do whatever I could to save it."

The first sentence is a very general, bland statement. The majority of community service essays probably begin a lot like it, but it gives the reader little information and does nothing to draw them in. On the other hand, the second sentence begins immediately with action and helps persuade the reader to keep reading so they can learn what happened to the dog.

Step 2: Discuss the Work You Did

Once you've hooked your reader in with your first sentence, tell them about your community service experiences. State where you work, when you began working, how much time you've spent there, and what your main duties include. This will help the reader quickly put the rest of the essay in context and understand the basics of your community service work.


Not including basic details about your community service could leave your reader confused.

Step 3: Include Specific Details

It's the details of your community service that make your experience unique and memorable, so go into the specifics of what you did.

For example, don't just say you volunteered at a nursing home; talk about reading Mrs. Johnson her favorite book, watching Mr. Scott win at bingo, and seeing the residents play games with their grandchildren at the family day you organized. Try to include specific activities, moments, and people in your essay. Having details like these let the readers really understand what work you did and how it differs from other volunteer experiences.

Compare these two passages:

"For my volunteer work, I tutored children at a local elementary school. I helped them improve their math skills and become more confident students."

"As a volunteer at York Elementary School, I worked one-on-one with second and third graders who struggled with their math skills, particularly addition, subtraction, and fractions. As part of my work, I would create practice problems and quizzes and try to connect math to the students' interests. One of my favorite memories was when Sara, a student I had been working with for several weeks, told me that she enjoyed the math problems I had created about a girl buying and selling horses so much that she asked to help me create math problems for other students."

The first passage only gives basic information about the work done by the volunteer; there is very little detail included, and no evidence is given to support her claims. How did she help students improve their math skills? How did she know they were becoming more confident?

The second passage is much more detailed. It recounts a specific story and explains more fully what kind of work the volunteer did, as well as a specific instance of a student becoming more confident with her math skills. Providing more detail in your essay helps support your claims as well as make your essay more memorable and unique.

Step 4: Show Your Personality

It would be very hard to get a scholarship or place at a school if none of your readers felt like they knew much about you after finishing your essay, so make sure that your essay shows your personality. The way to do this is to state your personal strengths, then provide examples to support your claims. Take some time to think about which parts of your personality you would like your essay to highlight, then write about specific examples to show this.

  • If you want to show that you're a motivated leader, describe a time when you organized an event or supervised other volunteers.
  • If you want to show your teamwork skills, write about a time you helped a group of people work together better.
  • If you want to show that you're a compassionate animal lover, write about taking care of neglected shelter animals and helping each of them find homes.

Step 5: State What You Accomplished

After you have described your community service and given specific examples of your work, you want to begin to wrap your essay up by stating your accomplishments. What was the impact of your community service? Did you build a house for a family to move into? Help students improve their reading skills? Clean up a local park? Make sure the impact of your work is clear; don't be worried about bragging here.

If you can include specific numbers, that will also strengthen your essay. Saying "I delivered meals to 24 home-bound senior citizens" is a stronger example than just saying "I delivered meals to lots of senior citizens."

Also be sure to explain why your work matters. Why is what you did important? Did it provide more parks for kids to play in? Help students get better grades? Give people medical care who would otherwise not have gotten it? This is an important part of your essay, so make sure to go into enough detail that your readers will know exactly what you accomplished and how it helped your community.

"My biggest accomplishment during my community service was helping to organize a family event at the retirement home. The children and grandchildren of many residents attended, and they all enjoyed playing games and watching movies together."

"The community service accomplishment that I'm most proud of is the work I did to help organize the First Annual Family Fun Day at the retirement home. My job was to design and organize fun activities that senior citizens and their younger relatives could enjoy. The event lasted eight hours and included ten different games, two performances, and a movie screening with popcorn. Almost 200 residents and family members attended throughout the day. This event was important because it provided an opportunity for senior citizens to connect with their family members in a way they aren't often able to. It also made the retirement home seem more fun and enjoyable to children, and we have seen an increase in the number of kids coming to visit their grandparents since the event."

The second passage is stronger for a variety of reasons. First, it goes into much more detail about the work the volunteer did. The first passage only states that she helped "organize a family event." That really doesn't tell readers much about her work or what her responsibilities were. The second passage is much clearer; her job was to "design and organize fun activities."

The second passage also explains the event in more depth. A family day can be many things; remember that your readers are likely not familiar with what you're talking about, so details help them get a clearer picture.

Lastly, the second passage makes the importance of the event clear: it helped residents connect with younger family members, and it helped retirement homes seem less intimidating to children, so now some residents see their grand kids more often.

Step 6: Discuss What You Learned

One of the final things to include in your essay should be the impact that your community service had on you. You can discuss skills you learned, such as carpentry, public speaking, animal care, or another skill.

You can also talk about how you changed personally. Are you more patient now? More understanding of others? Do you have a better idea of the type of career you want? Go into depth about this, but be honest. Don't say your community service changed your life if it didn't because trite statements won't impress readers.

In order to support your statements, provide more examples. If you say you're more patient now, how do you know this? Do you get less frustrated while playing with your younger siblings? Are you more willing to help group partners who are struggling with their part of the work? You've probably noticed by now that including specific examples and details is one of the best ways to create a strong and believable essay .

"As a result of my community service, I learned a lot about building houses and became a more mature person."

"As a result of my community service, I gained hands-on experience in construction. I learned how to read blueprints, use a hammer and nails, and begin constructing the foundation of a two-bedroom house. Working on the house could be challenging at times, but it taught me to appreciate the value of hard work and be more willing to pitch in when I see someone needs help. My dad has just started building a shed in our backyard, and I offered to help him with it because I know from my community service how much work it is. I also appreciate my own house more, and I know how lucky I am to have a roof over my head."

The second passage is more impressive and memorable because it describes the skills the writer learned in more detail and recounts a specific story that supports her claim that her community service changed her and made her more helpful.

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Step 7: Finish Strong

Just as you started your essay in a way that would grab readers' attention, you want to finish your essay on a strong note as well. A good way to end your essay is to state again the impact your work had on you, your community, or both. Reiterate how you changed as a result of your community service, why you found the work important, or how it helped others.

Compare these two concluding statements:

"In conclusion, I learned a lot from my community service at my local museum, and I hope to keep volunteering and learning more about history."

"To conclude, volunteering at my city's American History Museum has been a great experience. By leading tours and participating in special events, I became better at public speaking and am now more comfortable starting conversations with people. In return, I was able to get more community members interested in history and our local museum. My interest in history has deepened, and I look forward to studying the subject in college and hopefully continuing my volunteer work at my university's own museum."

The second passage takes each point made in the first passage and expands upon it. In a few sentences, the second passage is able to clearly convey what work the volunteer did, how she changed, and how her volunteer work benefited her community.

The author of the second passage also ends her essay discussing her future and how she'd like to continue her community service, which is a good way to wrap things up because it shows your readers that you are committed to community service for the long-term.

What's Next?

Are you applying to a community service scholarship or thinking about it? We have a complete list of all the community service scholarships available to help get your search started!

Do you need a community service letter as well? We have a step-by-step guide that will tell you how to get a great reference letter from your community service supervisor.

Thinking about doing community service abroad? Before you sign up, read our guide on some of the hazards of international volunteer trips and how to know if it's the right choice for you.

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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Christine graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Environmental Biology and Geography and received her Master's from Duke University. In high school she scored in the 99th percentile on the SAT and was named a National Merit Finalist. She has taught English and biology in several countries.

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Blog > Essay Advice , Supplementals > How to Write a Community Supplemental Essay (with Examples)

How to Write a Community Supplemental Essay (with Examples)

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Kylie Kistner, MA Former Willamette University Admissions

Key Takeaway

If you're applying to college, there's a good chance you'll be writing a Community Essay for one (or lots) of your supplementals. In this post, we show you how to write one that stands out.

This post is one in a series of posts about the supplemental essays . You can read our core “how-to” supplemental post here .

When schools admit you, they aren’t just admitting you to be a student. They’re also admitting you to be a community member.

Community supplemental essays help universities understand how you would fit into their school community. At their core, Community prompts allow you to explicitly show an admissions officer why you would be the perfect addition to the school’s community.

Let’s get into what a Community supplemental essay is, what strategies you can use to stand out, and which steps you can take to write the best one possible.

What is a Community supplemental essay?

Community supplemental essay prompts come in a number of forms. Some ask you to talk about a community you already belong to, while others ask you to expand on how you would contribute to the school you’re applying to.

Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1: Rice University

Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System and undergraduate life is heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural tradition each student brings. What life perspectives would you contribute to the Rice community? 500 word limit.

2: Swarthmore College

Swarthmore students’ worldviews are often forged by their prior experiences and exposure to ideas and values. Our students are often mentored, supported, and developed by their immediate context—in their neighborhoods, communities of faith, families, and classrooms. Reflect on what elements of your home, school, or community have shaped you or positively impacted you. How have you grown or changed because of the influence of your community?

Community Essay Strategy

Your Community essay strategy will likely depend on the kind of Community essay you’re asked to write. As with all supplemental essays, the goal of any community essay should be to write about the strengths that make you a good fit for the school in question.

How to write about a community to which you belong

Most Community essay prompts give you a lot of flexibility in how you define “community.” That means that the community you write about probably isn’t limited to the more formal communities you’re part of like family or school. Your communities can also include friend groups, athletic teams, clubs and organizations, online communities, and more.

There are two things you should consider before you even begin writing your essay.

What school values is the prompt looking for?

Whether they’re listed implicitly or explicitly, Community essay prompts often include values that you can align your essay response with.

To explain, let’s look at this short supplemental prompt from the University of Notre Dame:

If you were given unlimited resources to help solve one problem in your community, what would it be and how would you accomplish it?

Now, this prompt doesn’t outright say anything about values. But the question itself, even being so short, implies a few values:

a) That you should be active in your community

b) That you should be aware of your community’s problems

c) That you know how to problem-solve

d) That you’re able to collaborate with your community

After dissecting the prompt for these values, you can write a Community essay that showcases how you align with them.

What else are admissions officers learning about you through the community you choose?

In addition to showing what a good community member you are, your Community supplemental essays can also let you talk about other parts of your experience. Doing so can help you find the perfect narrative balance among all your essays.

Let’s use a quick example.

If I’m a student applying to computer science programs, then I might choose to write about the community I’ve found in my robotics team. More specifically, I might write about my role as cheerleader and principle problem-solver of my robotics team. Writing about my robotics team allows me to do two things:

Show that I’m a really supportive person in my community, and

Show that I’m on a robotics team that means a lot to me.

Now, it’s important not to co-opt your Community essay and turn it into a secret Extracurricular essay , but it’s important to be thinking about all the information an admissions officer will learn about you based on the community you choose to focus on.

How to write about what you’ll contribute to your new community

The other segment of Community essays are those that ask you to reflect on how your specific experiences will contribute to your new community.

It’s important that you read each prompt carefully so you know what to focus your essay on.

These kinds of Community prompts let you explicitly drive home why you belong at the school you’re applying to.

Here are two suggestions to get you started.

Draw out the values.

This kind of Community prompt also typically contains some kind of reference to values. The Rice prompt is a perfect example of this:

Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community . The Residential College System and undergraduate life is heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural tradition each student brings. What life perspectives would you contribute to the Rice community? 500 word limit.

There are several values here:

a) Collaboration

b) Enhancing quality of life

c) For all members of the community

d) Residential system (AKA not just in the classroom)

e) Sharing unique life experiences and cultural traditions with other students

Note that the actual question of the prompt is “What life perspectives would you contribute to the Rice community?” If you skimmed the beginning of the prompt to get to the question, you’d miss all these juicy details about what a Rice student looks like.

But with them in mind, you can choose to write about a life perspective that you hold that aligns with these five values.

Find detailed connections to the school.

Since these kinds of Community prompts ask you what you would contribute to the school community, this is your chance to find the most logical and specific connections you can. Browse the school website and social media to find groups, clubs, activities, communities, or support systems that are related to your personal background and experiences. When appropriate based on the prompt, these kinds of connections can help you show how good a fit you are for the school and community.

Every week, our team of former T15 admissions officers sends out an email with the best application tips based on your grade level. No BS—just our best advice straight to your inbox.

How to do Community Essay school research

Looking at school values means doing research on the school’s motto, mission statement, and strategic plans. This information is all carefully curated by a university to reflect the core values, initiatives, and goals of an institution. They can guide your Community essay by giving you more values options to include.

We’ll use the Rice mission statement as an example. It says,

As a leading research university with a distinctive commitment to undergraduate education, Rice University aspires to pathbreaking research , unsurpassed teaching , and contribution to the betterment of our world . It seeks to fulfill this mission by cultivating a diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders across the spectrum of human endeavor.

I’ve bolded just a few of the most important values we can draw out.

As we’ll see in the next section, I can use these values to brainstorm my Community essay.

How to write a Community Supplemental Essay

Step 1: Read the prompt closely & identify any relevant values.

When writing any supplemental essay, your first step should always be to closely read the prompt. You can even annotate it. It’s important to do this so you know exactly what is being asked of you.

With Community essays specifically, you can also highlight any values you think the prompt is asking you to elaborate on.

Keeping track of the prompt will make sure that you’re not missing anything an admissions officer will be on the lookout for.

Step 2: Brainstorm communities you’re involved in.

If you’re writing a Community essay that asks you to discuss a community you belong to, then your next step will be brainstorming all of your options.

As you brainstorm, keep a running list. Your list can include all kinds of communities you’re involved in.


  • Model United Nations
  • Youth group
  • Instagram book club
  • My Discord group

Step 3: Think about the role(s) you play in your selected community.

Narrow down your community list to a couple of options. For each remaining option, identify the roles you played, actions you took, and significance you’ve drawn from being part of that group.

Community: Orchestra

These three columns help you get at the most important details you need to include in your community essay.

Step 4: Identify any relevant connections to the school.

Depending on the question the prompt asks of you, your last step may be to do some school research.

Let’s return to the Rice example.

After researching the Rice mission statement, we know that Rice values community members who want to contribute to the “betterment of our world.”

Ah ha! Now we have something solid to work from.

With this value in mind, I can choose to write about a perspective that shows my investment in creating a better world. Maybe that perspective is a specific kind of fundraising tenacity. Maybe it’s always looking for those small improvements that have a big impact. Maybe it’s some combination of both. Whatever it is, I can write a supplemental essay that reflects the values of the university.

Community Essay Mistakes

While writing Community essays may seem fairly straightforward, there are actually a number of ways they can go awry. Specifically, there are three common mistakes students make that you should be on the lookout for.

They don’t address the specific requests of the prompt.

As with all supplemental essays, your Community essay needs to address what the prompt is asking you to do. In Community essays especially, you’ll need to assess whether you’re being asked to talk about a community you’re already part of or the community you hope to join.

Neglecting to read the prompt also means neglecting any help the prompt gives you in terms of values. Remember that you can get clues as to what the school is looking for by analyzing the prompt’s underlying values.

They’re too vague.

Community essays can also go awry when they’re too vague. Your Community essay should reflect on specific, concrete details about your experience. This is especially the case when a Community prompt asks you to talk about a specific moment, challenge, or sequence of events.

Don’t shy away from details. Instead, use them to tell a compelling story.

They don’t make any connections to the school.

Finally, Community essays that don’t make any connections to the school in question miss out on a valuable opportunity to show school fit. Recall from our supplemental essay guide that you should always write supplemental essays with an eye toward showing how well you fit into a particular community.

Community essays are the perfect chance to do that, so try to find relevant and logical school connections to include.

Community Supplemental Essay Example

Example essay: robotics community.

University of Michigan: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (Required for all applicants; minimum 100 words/maximum 300 words)

From Blendtec’s “Will it Blend?” videos to ZirconTV’s “How to Use a Stud Finder,” I’m a YouTube how-to fiend. This propensity for fix-it knowledge has not only served me well, but it’s also been a lifesaver for my favorite community: my robotics team(( The writer explicitly states the community they’ll be focusing on.)) . While some students spend their after-school hours playing sports or video games, I spend mine tinkering in my garage with three friends, one of whom is made of metal.

Last year, I Googled more fixes than I can count. Faulty wires, misaligned soldering, and failed code were no match for me. My friends watched in awe as I used Boolean Operators to find exactly the information I sought.(( The writer clearly articulates their place in the community.)) But as I agonized over chassis reviews, other unsearchable problems arose.

First((This entire paragraph fulfills the “describe that community” direction in the prompt.)) , there was the matter of registering for our first robotics competition. None of us familiar with bureaucracy, David stepped up and made some calls. His maturity and social skills helped us immediately land a spot. The next issue was branding. Our robot needed a name and a logo, and Connor took it upon himself to learn graphic design. We all voted on Archie’s name and logo design to find the perfect match. And finally, someone needed to enter the ring. Archie took it from there, winning us first place.

The best part about being in this robotics community is the collaboration and exchange of knowledge.((The writer emphasizes a clear strength: collaboration within their community. It’s clear that the writer values all contributions to the team.))  Although I can figure out how to fix anything, it’s impossible to google social skills, creativity, or courage. For that information, only friends will do. I can only imagine the fixes I’ll bring to the University of Michigan and the skills I’ll learn in return at part of the Manufacturing Robotics community((The writer ends with a forward-looking connection to the school in question.)) .

Want to see even more supplemental essay examples? Check out our college essay examples post . 

Liked that? Try this next.

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How to Write Supplemental Essays that Will Impress Admissions Officers

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How to Write a College Essay (Exercises + Examples)

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Home — Essay Samples — Life — Community Service — How I Will Contribute To The Community


How I Will Contribute to The Community

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Published: Sep 5, 2023

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Education as a catalyst for change, creating social impact through engagement, fostering inclusivity and diversity, conclusion: empowering change together.

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The Community Essay for the Common App Supplements

Mark montgomery.

  • July 24, 2023

community essay for the Common App

How do you write the community essay for the Common App? Many college applications require supplemental essays. A common supplementary question asks you to consider and write about a community to which you belong. 

The definition of community is open to interpretation and can be difficult to pin down. We each belong to a wide variety of communities ranging from our family and friend groups to being members of the global community.  

My Communities 

For example, I belong to a bunch of different communities. I sing in a choir, so I’m part of the community of the Colorado Chorale community (and within that community, I’m a member of the tenor section). I go to see plays a lot, so I’m a member of the “theater-going” community. Birdwatching can be fun, I find, so I belong to the “community of birdwatchers.” I belong to a club or two, so I’m a member or those communities. I belong to a political party, which is a community in a sense. I went to Dartmouth , so I belong to a community of alumni, both locally and globally. Same with my grad school: my friends and I still talk about belonging to the “ Fletcher Community .” 

my contribution to my community essay

When I lived in Hong Kong, I was a member of the American community, which was part of the large expatriate community. I speak French and live in Denver. Therefore, I’m part of the community of Denverites who speak French as a second language. I live in a specific neighborhood in the city of Denver in the State of Colorado in the United States. All of those communities define me in one way or another. Finally, at a more intimate level, I also belong to a family community that is very important to me.

Really, when you stop to think about it, we all belong to a large number of overlapping communities. Think of a Venn diagram with lots of overlapping circles—and we are at that tiny dot in the center where each of those circles overlaps. 

Why write the community essay for the Common App?

Why do colleges ask you to write this community essay? In writing about community as it relates to you, you reveal important details at the core of who you are. Colleges are hoping to bring students to their campuses who will contribute in a positive way to campus culture, whether intellectually, socially, or through their extracurricular activities. 

They want students who will be successful in their new community and enrich the college through their varied backgrounds, experiences, accomplishments, activities and behavior. Thus, the way you answer this prompt will help them imagine if you would be a good addition to their campus community.

Here are some examples of the community essay prompt:

  • Please complete the following, and have a little fun doing so: “I appreciate my community because …” (up to 300  characters)
  • At MIT , we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being good friends. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200-250 words)
  • What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  (up to 350 words)
  • Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.  (up to 300 words)
  • Macalester is a community that includes people from many different backgrounds, some who have lived around the world and others who have lived in one place their entire lives. Please write an essay about how your background, experiences, or outlook might add to the Mac community, academically and personally. (up to 500 words)*

* Note: this last prompt doesn’t ask about a community to which you currently belong, but rather asks you to reflect on what you will bring to the community. This essay is a mix of activities and community essays. However, this essay should emphasize what the applicant would add to the campus community.

The community essay vs. the community service essay

Notice that this essay is not narrowly focused on any service you might provide to your community. Of course, it is entirely possible that your involvement in a community may include some sort of involvement that helps to promote the community and the interests of its members in some way.  

However, the community essay prompts do not specifically ask you to talk about this service. The prompts want you to think about what it means to “belong,” and how you conceive of yourself in the larger world. A sense of community may, indeed, lead you to act in certain ways to advance a cause, donate your time, or exert your energies to meet the needs of your community. Your actions certainly may become part of this community essay as a way to demonstrate the ways in which you identify with—and contribute to—this community. But the focus of this essay is on that sense of belonging. 

Service to your community—or to someone else’s?

To put a finer point to it, it is possible to provide “community service” to communities to which we do not belong. We might donate time to the homeless community—but that does not make us homeless. We might spend time working with refugees, even if we, ourselves, are not refugees. Or while we might enjoy good health, we still might donate time to make meals for the critically ill.

So make sure that when you write the community essay you zero in on a community that defines you, and not on the service you devote to a community that is not your own.  

When preparing for the community essay for the Common App, DO THESE THINGS:

Think carefully about your choice of community.

The community you choose says a lot about you. Think carefully about what message even just the choice of community might convey to your reader. In fact, you may even want to start by asking yourself “What aspects of who I am do I want the reader to know?” and then pick the community that will do that in the best possible way. Think, too, how your choice can help you differentiate yourself and share important insight into who you are. 

Factors for you to consider as you brainstorm the community essay for the Common App:

  • Which communities are most important to you and why?
  • What do these communities say about you that you haven’t shared with your reader elsewhere in your application?
  • What roles have you played in these communities?
  • How would you measure the impact of your participation in these communities?
  • What does your participation in these communities say about your character, qualities, and how you interact with the world around you?
  • What does the overall message say about you as a future college student?

Use this as an opportunity to reveal more about yourself

This prompt isn’t just to elaborate on your community; this is another opportunity to reveal important qualities about yourself. Explain why this community is so important to you. Write about what you learned about yourself and how it has shaped who you are. Reveal how you have made contributions to this community.  

Show, don’t tell

Like every essay, the details show your reader what you want them to know about you. Be specific, but selective, with the details you include. Every word should contribute to the message you want to share with your reader. If you have space, share an anecdote to help the reader visualize the qualities that you are trying to share.

Ensure you answer the prompt fully and directly

Some of these prompts are simple and short, but other schools have long prompts. Don’t get lost in answering the first part of the prompt and forget about the remainder. Re-read the prompt after you have drafted your ideas to make sure you’ve addressed everything. 

In addition, sometimes, if you have multiple applications that ask a “community” question, you may be tempted to simply repurpose the same exact essay from one application to the other. Beware! Each prompt will have different nuances to it, and you will need to ensure that you are actually answering the prompt that is being asked. You can certainly re-use the content from one application to the next, but you should tailor how you express those ideas so that they match the prompt.

When drafting the community essay for the Common App, DON’T DO these things

Don’t be afraid to “think outside of the box”.

Think outside the box when you write the community essay

Some communities to which we belong are obvious because we participate in them on a daily basis. These would include our families and our friend groups. Others are obvious because they are clearly defined: the football team or student government. But what about those informal communities, occasional communities, or hard-to-define communities to which you might belong? Are you a crafty person who blogs about your creations with an online community?

Do you belong to a book group in your neighborhood? Are you a classic car connoisseur? Even writing about things that might not seem like natural “communities” can work quite well as long as they reveal important aspects of who you are. For example, we’ve read a successful “community” essay about a student who belonged to a community of anonymous subway riders. We read another about a community of students who wear crazy socks to school. 

Don’t share obvious details

The detail about the community is not the most important part of your response, even if the prompt does say to “describe a community to which you belong.” Consider only sharing those details about the community that ties into what you are trying to share about yourself. For example, most drama groups put on performances for the public.

But not all drama groups are community-based and have participants ranging in age from 9 to 99. If part of your story is about this multi-generational community, then this detail plays a part in your story. Include those details that play a role in why the community is important or impactful for you.

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Remember these things about the community essay for the Common App

No matter which community you choose to write about, you want to be sure that you reflect deeply about why this community is important to you. If you have a longer word count, you can consider using an anecdote to share with the reader, but for the shorter prompts, keep your writing personal, but just more to the point.

And don’t lose sight of the reason that you are writing this essay. You are applying to be a part of a new community. You want to show that you have a deep appreciation for the sense of satisfaction, dedication, and attachment that comes with being a member of a community. The purpose is to demonstrate that you know how to nurture the community and how you nourish others’ sense of belonging in that circle.  

Colleges want to know that you will keep the flame of that college community alive, even as you graduate and move on with your life. The admissions office wants to know that you will cherish and contribute to the community that they already call their own. Convince them that you deserve to belong.

Mark Montgomery

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Describe a time when you contributed something to your community. How did this event impact you? by NATHAN

NATHAN's entry into Varsity Tutor's August 2021 scholarship contest

Describe a time when you contributed something to your community. How did this event impact you? by NATHAN - August 2021 Scholarship Essay

“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.” Sherry Anderson. The more we give, the happier we feel. Volunteering increases my self-confidence. I feel satisfied when I am doing good for others and the community, this provides a natural sense of accomplishment. My role as a volunteer can also give me a sense of pride and identity. Also, volunteering my time, money, or energy to help others doesn't just make the world better it also makes me better. Studies indicate that the very act of giving back to the community boosts your happiness, health, and sense of well-being. I learn to start by giving more than what is expected. Whether it is helping my classmate, organizing a neighborhood clean-up, or shoveling snow at an elderly neighbor's house, learn to become aware of what is happening around you and what others are experiencing. This helps you to live more fully in the present. I often encourage myself and my friends to contribute to the development of community service provisions—for example, by encouraging markets for local food, to help disadvantaged groups. Build links with schools and communities in contrasting localities at home or abroad to raise awareness of diversity, visiting the elderly home and orphanage and global issues. I realized that helping to contribute to my community and others will enrich my life, familiarize me with my community, and connect me to people and ideas that will positively impact my perspective for the rest of my life. Helping my community is an opportunity for me to grow as a person, to better understand how I fit into the world around me. Volunteering and performing community service provides essential help to underserved and struggling communities, but it provides benefits to me as a volunteer as well. Getting started with volunteering early on is a great way to help others, develop skills, and meet new people. I am helping others and that makes me feel good. I am making a difference in people’s lives and impacting the world in a positive way. As an individual I am also doing good for my own mental and physical health by being active, feeling happy about helping others, and feeling accomplished. Volunteer opportunities are a good way to help my community, but they also present me and others with a chance to learn about different kinds of jobs, explore their interests, and discover new possibilities. Other volunteer as well as me can take an area of interest they already have, like cooking and working with food, and get firsthand experience with it through volunteering with related nonprofits. These experiences can help us decide if they want to pursue that area as a career later on or realize that they don’t like it as much and want to try something else. Maybe they’ll even be drawn toward working for a non-profit. I can also learn valuable knowledge and real-world skills through their volunteer opportunities. These skills can help me to grow and prepare for college, the workforce, and beyond. So, you see doing good has a profound impact on me.

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Contribution to My Community Beyond My Career, Essay Example

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Words: 548

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Contribution to My Community Beyond My Career, Essay Example

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The contributions to my community by me beyond my career are countless. They range from participation in forums promoting change advocating for youth development to getting out in the open with the grassroots meeting shoulder to shoulder in cleaning areas where there is need for improvement.  Essentially, I live in a relatively large community. The population is approximately  one thousand two hundred and fifty (1250) persons. This consistsof an estimated 150 – 165 family with children ranging from the ages of 2 months to 18 years of age. Teenagers and children account for 70% of the population.

With this ratio of children to adults in the community, I observed that there are numerous opportunities for community work on a daily basis because it takes a village to raise a child. As a youth advocate I became instrumental in organizing a forum. At this meeting interested parents met with community leaders’ to plan strategies that would empower youths’ fordeveloping positive goals that would enable them to leave school, enter college and the world of work successfully.

Our goal was designing a program whereby students ranging from the ages of 6 -18 could benefit from after school tutoring, assistance with home work and life skills functioning. I contacted retired teachers in the community and those in nearby vicinities to volunteer their services a few hours a week. After this forum community leaders decided to arrange funding for the program and locate a building with grounds for youth to meet, be taught and interact in field sports.

I plan after graduating to use this youth development idea as a give back activity for my community. As a registered nurse I can use my skill to teach students healthy life style practices and also volunteer my services some hours per week at the center. Currently, I spend time rakingleavesoff my community  street during spring. Also, I shoveledsnow with other members of my community during winter along with donating money to 3rd world countries,which have similar youth programs as the one I am advocating.

In my community there is a neighborhood center, which always needs volunteers either as receptionists or forhelping clients maintain order when they attend classes.Several times I volunteered at the center, on weekends or on my off days. The elderly go to  enjoy the center for exercises and indoor and activities. They always need assistance getting to the therapists or activity managers, who themselves are volunteers. I help them get registered for the day’s activities because for each activity they must register by writing their names and telephone numbers.

This service was beneficial to the elderly, myself and the community. If they received no prompt help in writing their names, it limited the number of hours they would have to participate in activities or therapy. For me it was a valuable experience learning patience and to appreciate the growth and development stages of aging. For the community my services enabled them to meet their budget in offering these activitiessince they did not have to pay volunteers like me. When children attend the center for their games I volunteered my skills in offering assistance in basketball training. Nursing is very important to me because when trained I would have skills to offer professional help as a nurse to my community enabling people to live healthier lives.

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My Contribution to the Society - Essay Sample

My Contribution to the Society - Essay Sample

First of all, I cannot mention my valuable experience in Korean army. After I finished the first year of the university, I applied to a military service. Actually, in our country it is compulsory for all the men if they have a good health. But there are not so many people who want to serve in the northernmost part of the country because they think that being close to North Korea is much more dangerous, training schedules are much harder, and the weather is worse as compared with the south part of the territory. But nevertheless, I applied to the military service in the northernmost region because I thought that somebody should serve there and I also thought that if I dedicate myself to the service in that region I will help an applicant and the military people. For two years of military experience, I learnt a lot of interesting and useful things. When I finished hard trainings I had a feeling that Im a worthwhile person. This two years gave me a strong friendship with my peers and a sense of belonging to the nations most important organization. Moreover, I understood that I can make an important contribution to the society. Also, during the last 6 months, I led ten junior soldiers. We experienced a number of military exercises together, and they obeyed to all my commands. It was the beginning of my leadership skills formation. I think that my experience in Korean military service was an important part of my life because the army is an important part of each country. It is such an institution which should protect the country. So being the part of this institution means being responsible for the safety of all the people in your own homeland. So that was my contribution to the community to learn how to protect my country from the enemy in case of need.

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Right after that, I continued my study of computer science in my university. Because I finished my military service successfully, I was filled with the sense of confidence. I focused on my study during academic period, I won scholarships four times by raising my grade up to approximately 3.9 of 4.5. The highest grade was 4.45 of 4.5 honorably. I was very proud that I have achieved such good results. In the meantime, I wanted to have a practical experience in the field of IT and so I decided to start an IT startup business with my friend with the sponsorship from the university-industry collaboration program. This business was getting bigger and biger because of juniors involvement, and total number of employees had risen to eight people. It was in 2004, and at that time, information industry had developed rapidly in Korea, and my university also needed a public-facing website to catch up a trend. As we were sponsored by the university, we decided to start a number of projects which should build a variety of websites and programs for university. And as a result of those projects, both sides have benefited university and my business experience. I think that such a successful experience was possible due to my good academic standing. This experience has two sides, on the one hand my university as a representative of a society helped me to start my own business, on the other hand me and my company helped our university in its own development. I think that my university is able to prepare the good specialists which will be in demand through the country. By building websites and different kind of programs we helped our university to keep up with the times and to become better known through the country. That was my contribution to the community which, by the way, was volunteer. As for me, due to such an experience I became more knowledgeable in the field that I like so much.

After I finished my education in the university and joined into a company, I decided to make a contribution to the communities I was involved in. There was a voluntary service in my company and its main goal was to help children. I was really busy because of my schedule at the beginning of my work in the company; nevertheless, I joined this voluntary service at least five time a year to help children. The help was primitive. I washed them, cleaned their room, and played with them. This experience make me understand how much difficult it is to live with some kind of disabilities. I understood how much support these children were needed from the other people, and how terribly small was the help that I personally did for them but how much such a support meant for them. It was a little bit hard for me, hard to see that there are so many children that have different kinds of disabilities. But it is not their fault that they are what they are. And I hope after some time in our world and in our country in particular there will be more people who will be ready to help these children. Though those voluntary activities, I found myself that I can live helping people who are weak and need help in the society. In each country and in each society there are people of different kind. In simple terms we are one big family and to help each other means to make our society better. This experience gave me an understanding of such things and it also make me feel like a real citizen of my country more than ever.

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  • Main content

Bayard Rustin organized the 1963 March on Washington but was nearly written out of civil rights history because he was openly gay. He was also my life partner.

  • Bayard Rustin was a civil rights leader who organized the 1963 March on Washington.
  • Rustin was marginalized for his identity as a gay Black man, but continued to fight for equality.
  • His surviving partner Walter Naegle spoke with Insider reporter Yoonji Han about keeping Rustin's legacy alive.

Insider Today

This is an as-told-to essay based on a conversation with Walter Naegle, an artist and photographer who is the surviving partner of Bayard Rustin , the late American Civil Rights leader. The essay has been edited for length and clarity.

Bayard Rustin and I met in 1977. I was 27 years old and he was 65. We met quite by chance, waiting for a light to turn on a street corner in Times Square. We looked at each other and started talking.

Bayard was somebody whose history I knew because I had a strong interest in the Civil Rights Movement and in nonviolent direct action from the time I was a teenager. Bayard's name was always one that I came across when I read about these things.

So I had a good sense of who he was, what he stood for. Because we shared a set of values and ideals, we were very compatible as a couple.

Bayard loved the arts, spicy food, and doodling

If there was anything I was surprised about Bayard, it was how approachable and friendly he was. In the news footage you see of him, he was fierce, either protesting or speaking out against some form of injustice.

But in his private life, he was really quite a gentleman — very gentle, loving, and generous in terms of spirit. He was a lot of fun, with a great sense of humor, and had a deep appreciation for the arts. He had a wonderful collection of art from all over the world, partly from his travels and partly from his years of collecting. He was a person of great interest and had many interests of his own.

There are a lot of little personal details: the way he dressed, the way he carried himself, the things he liked to eat. He was very much into hot and spicy foods — a taste I believe he acquired during the time he spent in India in 1949 to study the Gandhian philosophy of nonviolence.

Bayard was a very creative person. He sang at demonstrations and used his voice as a way to bring people together, or to move through a particularly difficult moment in a demonstration. He would sing and things would lighten up.

He was also a fabulous doodler. I don't think most people know that, but if they had a chance to look through his files and papers, they would see very organized, detailed, and geometric doodles that he used to do on correspondence that he received, or memos, notes, or schedules.

It was a reflection of the kind of brain he had — one that was very disciplined and organized, ideal for the type of work he did for the Civil Rights Movement. Bayard would have to bring lots of people together and think through every possible thing that could go wrong, as well as thinking through what they wanted to go right. He was a great planner and strategist, and I think that shows in his doodles.

Marginalized from activism

Bayard was very active up until the time he died in 1987. When he was one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest advisors, he was working 24/7 on civil rights activism.

However, occasionally he would be set aside or pushed out, mostly because he was gay and didn't hide it. Sometimes he would have to go into exile temporarily. He would often keep his work behind the scenes.

By the time I met him, a lot of that had calmed down and he was able to return to the interests he'd had in the 1940s. A lot of that had to do with international human rights. He was very active with the International Rescue Committee and refugee resettlement, immigrant rights issues, and democracy promotion in different parts of the world.

Becoming active in the LGBT rights movement

I know I've been credited with urging Bayard to engage more actively in gay rights activism in the 80s, but I'm not sure how true that is. What I did do is that I didn't tell him not to.

There may have been other people who worked with him earlier in his career who advised against working with gay rights activist groups and may have prevented any kinds of requests from LGBT groups from hitting his desk. But I was open to pretty much anything that came in. Sometimes he would ask me what I thought, and I would encourage him.

Bayard was at a point in his life where he was in a very stable and loving relationship. He perhaps was a little more comfortable about speaking openly and working with LGBT groups — not that he was ever uncomfortable with himself, but more because his identity had been weaponized against him and used to keep him in the margins, to keep him from rising to the level where he might have been able to. But those things were behind him now.

Protecting our union through adoption

In the early 80s, we saw an article in an LGBT publication about a couple who tried to adopt but were denied the right. Bayard got a twinkle in his eye and suggested that maybe we should try that.

Given the difference in our ages, it made sense to try to guarantee a legal relationship. Assuming that we would both live out our natural lifespans, he was going to die before I was. He wanted to be in a position where I would be able to make decisions for him if he was hospitalized or suffering from dementia.

Bayard also wanted me to be able to inherit his estate — not just property, but also intellectual property rights. He wanted me to be the executor of his will. We thought that if Bayard adopted me, that was one way of cementing a legal relationship because LGBTQ marriage at that point was in the distant future . We went through the legal adoption process in 1982.

A contribution to the democratization of America

Bayard has been gone for 36 years, and his legacy has shifted over time. When he passed, he was remembered mostly for organizing the 1963 March on Washington , which was a triumph not just personally, but also for the Civil Rights Movement.

After that, he was remembered for the other work that Bayard had done for the African American struggle, and for his close relationship with Dr. King .

As time goes on, more attention has been brought to the work he did in the last 10, 20 years of his life. He was focused on the promotion of democracy — democratic values, democratic rights — and this stemmed from his early Quaker upbringing. Quakers believe in the oneness of the human family and equality. If countries are truly trying to live up to democratic values, they should be promoting gender equality, LGBTQ rights, economic justice.

The larger picture for Bayard is that he made a tremendous contribution to the democratization of this nation. I think especially in the last six years or so, when we suddenly realized that these things are not a given and can be threatened or taken away , people have started to realize that we need to work hard to hang onto the precious freedoms and values that we have.

We're seeing that in a lot of the activism that takes place now, not just for marginalized groups, but also for voting rights in general, labor rights , economic justice issues . All of those things were near and dear to Bayard's values and Bayard's heart.

Netflix's "Rustin" film shows the day-to-day work of organizing a demonstration on the scale of the March on Washington. Actor Colman Domingo, who plays Bayard in the film, really captures the person that I knew: Someone with tremendous integrity, dignity, courage, and passion, plus a sampling of humor, lightheartedness, and the ability to really enjoy life and enjoy the work he was doing.

Bayard was doing hard work — they were all doing hard work and they were facing tremendous odds — but they did it with such a spirit of joy, love, and devotion. I think that's what people need to carry with them in their activism. Anger has its place, but if you spend all your time being angry, you're going to burn out pretty quickly.

Bayard was somebody who stayed in the struggle right until the end. Even though he faced obstacles and was marginalized and pushed aside, he always came right back in.

my contribution to my community essay

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