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Students devote summer to service

Chris Barnes | Friday, August 31, 2012

A number of Notre Dame students spent their summers not sitting by the pool but serving around the country in the Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) through the Center for Social Concerns (CSC).

The SSLP program assigns students to “multiple agencies across the United States, reaching out in multiple ways to people in need,” according to the CSC website.

Sophomore Will Raaf said he worked with the homeless during his SSLP experience at the Hesed House in Aurora, Ill.

“During the day, [the other volunteers and I] moved the entire homeless shelter across the street to accommodate shelter renovations that were in progress,” Raaf said.  “At night, we spoke with the guests, served them food and prepared them for bed.”

As he volunteered close to his hometown, Raaf said the SSLP experience was transformative for him.

“I grew restless as a result of my SSLP experience,” he said.  “After experiencing poverty in an area only 20 minutes from my home, my eyes were opened to the immediacy of poverty.”

Part of Raaf’s work was to assist with programs for resident development at the Hesed House, a resource center and shelter dedicated to ending homelessness, sponsored programs for resident development.

“I participated in a morning running club three times a week [with the residents of the Hesed House],” Raaf said.  “The opportunity to do so was a pleasant surprise that extended the SSLP experience in an impactful way.”

Sophomore Holly O’Hara said she assisted women and children in a variety of ways throughout her two-month stint at the Shalom House in Harrisburg, Pa.

“I worked as a summer intern, so I worked on whatever the daily manager needed done on a specific day,” O’Hara said.  “On one occasion, I painted a fence around the house, and on another day I escorted the children who were living in the house to the park to play.”

O’Hara said shared meals allowed her to cultivate relationships with the women she lived with at the Shalom House.

“Every night [at the Shalom House,] a different woman takes a turn in making dinner for everyone living within the household,” she said. “Dinners were a great opportunity to get to know everyone.”

O’Hara said her time with the women and children at the Shalom House shaped her future plans.

“This school year I will apply for the spring mission trip to Appalachia and also try to volunteer at the Center for the Homeless once a week,” she said.  “I am also planning on applying for an [International Summer Service Learning Program (ISSLP)] for next summer in Nepal.”

Sophomore Peter Hall said interaction with volunteers and residents within the service location was a large part of his SSLP experience at De La Salle Middle School in St. Louis,iMo.

“I lived in an on-site house called the Claver House, which housed a group of people who lived together and whose goal is to grow in their faith while they do work in the community,” he said.  “After sharing a house with seven people, I developed close friendships with everyone in the household.”

Hall said his volunteer experience broadened his worldview.

“I have much more awareness of the social problems within the United States after my work with middle school students in St. Louis,” he said.  “It forced me out of my bubble.”

Hall said he would highly encourage any Notre Dame student to apply for an SSLP or ISSLP for next summer.

“My SSLP was a fantastic experience, and I believe that anyone else at Notre Dame who is considering applying for the program definitely should,” he said.  “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”