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CSC seminars have students serving for break

Tricia de Groot | Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Instead of spending spring break on a cruise or taking a road trip, some Notre Dame students decided to emerge themselves in six service work seminars. Over the week-long course, 139 students journeyed to Appalachia, 14 to Washington D.C., 12 took part in the Migrant Experiences Seminar, four in the L’Arche Community Seminar, 14 in the Children and Poverty Seminar and approximately 12 in the Holy Cross Missions at Coachella Seminar. The seminars, many of which grew from student interest and initiative, have been offered at Notre Dame for over 20 years. What makes them unique is that while many institutions offer alternative breaks, Notre Dame is one of the few that gives students one academic credit for their time. Participation in these experiential learning opportunities requires that students pass an application process and enroll in classes prior to, during and following their trips to enable full emergence in their respective communities. Carl Loesch, director of four of the seminars, expressed his admiration for those students who are willing to take on service work “to learn the lessons of those taught on the margins of society and to learn from the people most directly involved with these issues,” given their everyday course load and extracurricular activities.The largest of this year’s seminars was in Appalachia, attracting over 100 students. The seminar involves two to three orientation classes beforehand to prepare students for the immersion work. Then they meet with people during the trip to learn more about pertaining issues. The students are required to take follow up classes and write respective papers after arriving back on campus. Sophomore Kelly Kennedy, after learning about the seminar from the website, went with a group that stayed at Camp Andrew Jackson in Kentucky and worked on home repairs in the area. “We began doing a little demolition work by ripping off siding and a front and side porch and continued during the week by putting up new siding, a new roof and building a new front porch,” Kennedy said. “My dad would have been so proud – by the end of the week, I was using power tools like a champion – ‘Junkyard Wars’ style.” Kennedy also commented on the friendships she made with Notre Dame students along with students from other schools. Sophomores Michelle McCarthy and Margaret Smetana participated in the Washington D.C. seminar over fall break. Given their favorable experience, both decided to return in the spring leading the seminar with a theme that “would focus on the upcoming 2004 election and faithful citizenship,” McCarthy said.”Our seminar was very much education-based, so we spent the week meeting with a number of organizations and politicians with whom we discussed the idea of faithful citizenship,” Smetana said. Their trip also included running into presidential candidate John Kerry and watching U.S. Senators vote on budge issues from inside the Senate Chamber. Junior Melody Gonzalez participated for a second year in the Migrant Experience Seminar with a group of students who traveled to Immokalee, Fla.”There is no other way I would have wanted to spend my spring break,” she said. “The experiences we went through and the people we met surpass any spring break on a beach. I knew the experience would be just as empowering as last year and I would come back with a lot of energy to continue fighting for justice.” Junior Shantha Ready chose the Holy Cross Mission in Coachella. “We visited everywhere from an immigrant health clinic, to a middle school anti-drugs dance party, to a Mexican taqueria, to a trailer park home,” Ready said. “Generally, the seminar was much more focused on spiritual development and learning than actually serving.” Freshman Ashley Braun, who also went to Coachella, said that while service was a part of the seminar, the focus centered mostly on the trip as an immersion experience into the unique culture and economy of the Valley. “It’s the sixth poorest area in the nation and is a major supplier of domestic produce, yet much of its poverty is invisible even to the affluent neighboring communities like Palm Springs,” Braun said.Senior Tim Ducey, along with Teresa Hansen, led this break’s Children and Poverty Seminar. “Although eradicating poverty is an ominous task … we come away from our trip wiser and stronger, ready to embrace the challenges before us, each of us in our own way, whether that be through education, law, medicine, business, non-profit work or perhaps simply just being there through advocacy programs,” Ducey said.