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Students join service project

Kaitlyn Rabach | Monday, April 15, 2013

On Saturday, an estimated 75 Saint Mary’s students joined members of the larger South Bend community to participate in Rebuilding Together, a community-driven effort to rehabilitate homes in South Bend.

According to its website, Rebuilding Together is a non-profit, community-based partnership comprised of volunteers from local government, businesses, and other nonprofits that rehabilitates the homes of low-income homeowners and improves neighborhoods. Saint Mary’s students have been involved in the rehabilitation for nine years.

“It is recorded that over 80 percent of our student body does some type of volunteer work before graduating,” Erica Buhring, director of the Office of Civic and Social Engagement, said. “The Rebuilding Together event is a great event for students to participate in because they can see immediate results.”

According to the South Bend Tribune, the rehabilitation focuses on low-income neighborhoods and this year 18 homes will be rehabilitated in the city’s Westside-LaSalle Park neighborhood.

“This event allows students to move off campus and go to some very diverse neighborhoods,” Buhring said. “Rather than just reading about diversity, these students have the opportunity to go out and bring this diversity to life. They can crush different assumptions.”

It is through opportunities like this that students have the opportunity to connect with those in the larger South Bend community in very real and tangible ways, Buhring said.

“Saint Mary’s is part of a larger community,” Buhring said. “I think this can be forgotten. … It is a good chance to work side by side with members of the larger South Bend community.”

Markie Harrison, Student Director of the Office of Civic and Social Engagement, said she heard about the event from students who participated in it last year and decided to sign up after hearing their testimony.

“I had heard from people who did the program last year that it was a lot of fun,” Harrison said. “Plus, I really enjoy helping out in the community and this just seemed like an optimal event.”

She said the volunteers’ day began around 7 a.m. and lasted until 3 p.m. Volunteers performed basic household task such as painting, planting and putting in new windows. Her group performed work at the house of a retired veteran who is unable to perform much basic housework himself, she said.

“The transformation on the inside of the house was amazing,” Harrison said. “It was nice because we were able to see the difference made that day.”

Sophomore Batool Alsawalha said this experience introduced her to new members of the community. Her work allowed her to see how simple things like paining a house of fixing a door can actually make “the world of difference,” she said.

“I study engineering and would one day like to work in more rural areas to see what type of infrastructure can be fixed and things,” Alsawalha said. “This event was a great opportunity to not only branch out and work with people outside of the campus community, but to also see how important proper windows, doors, or kitchen cabinets really can be.”

Buhring said events like Rebuiding Together help advance the mission of the College and provide opportunities for students to be involved in experiential learning.

“At this institution, and this office in particular, we strongly advocate the positive effects of experiential learning,” Buhring said. “Events like Rebuilding Together, really add that practical component to our students’ education. It brings volunteering and classwork together in a meaningful way.”