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Volunteerism increases over holiday season

Katie Kohler | Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Shopping is not the only area that experiences a boost during the holiday season. Feelings of “glad tidings” and service have already penetrated the campuses of Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s.

This year, over 300 student volunteers are expected to do service over winter break, said representatives at the Center for Social Concerns.

Experiential Learning and Developmental Research at Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns director Jay Brandenberger recognized the increase.

“Students have a rather long break, compared to high school years, so they have more time to serve,” he said. “And the Advent season calls us to action for a more just world.”

Carrie Call, director of civic and social engagement at Saint Mary’s, echoed Brandenberger’s sentiments.

“Christmas lends itself to a general feeling of ‘good will toward all’ and people seem to be more cognizant of those who have greater needs during the holidays,” Call said.

Sheena Plamoottil, student senate social concerns committee chair, attributed an increase in volunteerism to the holidays, as well as the principles of each school.

“Through the very nature of the season, people are more compelled to volunteer, especially at a service-oriented school like our own,” she said.

“More than just volunteering, however, people during the holiday season also seem more compelled to help in other capacities,” Plamoottil said. “A great example of that came just a couple weeks ago with our committee’s Darfur petition signing initiative.”

The Social Concerns committee recently encouraged students to sign a large flag that read “Save Darfur” to raise awareness about the ongoing genocide. The flag – with more than 1,000 signatures – was mailed to Foreign Relations committee chairman Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind).

“We saw many people that were genuinely concerned with the progress of the global goal including those that had personally worked on something related and those that simply saw a need for action,” she said.

Plamoottil directly saw an increase in service through her own efforts in previous years.

“Having done work in the past with soup kitchens, food pantries and even blood banks, I have seen firsthand the huge influx of food and service coming into these establishments during the holiday season,” she said.

“Unfortunately, people that work at these establishments also remark on a huge decline after Christmas,” Plamoottil said. “While it is important to make the holidays bright, the rest of the year must not be forgotten either.”

Since the 1970s, over 7,000 Notre Dame students have participated in the Urban Plunge through the Center for Social Concerns. This program involves a two-day immersion in a poverty-stricken city across the United States. This year, 290 students plan to participate.

While the Urban Plunge project attracts the most people, the Center for Social Concerns offers other projects during the holiday season such as the Border Issues Seminar, the Organizing, Power and Hope Seminar and the Holy Cross Mission in Education Seminar.

The Border Issues Seminar focuses on immigration and other issues between the United States and Mexico. Students work with parish organizations and refugees and discuss related issues.

The Organizing, Power and Hope Seminar is a 6-day program in Chicago in which students intend to experience the Gospel through service.

The Holy Cross Mission in Education Seminar works in conjunction with the ministry of the Holy Cross in Phoenix to further the mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross.

Students from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s are invited to participate in the programs offered by the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame. All of these seminars have waiting lists.

At Saint Mary’s, the main service event during the holidays is the “12 Days of Christmas” project, which is sponsored by the Office of Civic and Social Engagement (OCSE) and the Senior Board.

From Nov. 27 to Dec. 8, gifts will be collected and money will be raised to provide gifts and food for several families in the local community. Last year, the event provided gifts for 12 families and 11 individuals. Typical items include clothing, toys, household items and grocery gift cards.

There will be 3-foot-tall “giving trees” displayed at various points on campus with gift tags containing gift ideas for the less fortunate families.

The goal of the Senior Board this year, according to Call, is to raise $5,000, which would exceed last year’s amount. This program is in its second year.

Money for the initiative is raised through campus events which require a five-dollar “12 Days” pass to participate.

Different committees and clubs will sponsor events for the remainder of the semester like candy grams, free food and pictures with Santa.

Senior class president Kathleen Kindt is organizing the event.

“My goal was to have this be a Saint Mary’s community event,” she said. “We have so much and can give so much more.”

The Senior Board will be responsible for selling the passes, publicity and buying and distributing the gifts.

Individual dorms are also gearing up for the holidays, said Carla DeMarzo-Sanchez, vice president of McGlinn Hall.

“So many people have been e-mailing and asking how they can help out with local organizations,” she said.

McGlinn is baking for the women of the local women’s care center where they volunteer twice a month.

O’Neill Hall president Steve Tortorello is using his own call to service to motivate other students.

“I personally always feel a call to be volunteering in some way each week, so I think that call just carries over more into the holidays,” he said.

Siegfried Hall plans on contributing to the Christmas spirit as well.

Siegfried residents are volunteering to help wrap donated Christmas presents for South Bend families and are adopting two families and raising money to give them Christmas presents.

“Siegfried Hall is always about giving back to the community and we show this through various volunteering activities,” said Siegfried president Tom Martin. “But during the holiday season, it is especially noticeable because there are so many more opportunities.” With so many organizations willing to help during the holidays, students will have no problem contributing to their communities.

“The holidays seem to reawaken a sense of connectedness in us,” Plamoottil said.

“We somehow are reminded that we’re in this world together.”