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Service seminars attract hundreds

Megan Sennett | Tuesday, August 29, 2006

For many Notre Dame students, fall break is their first chance to escape the rigors of college life but for others, the class-free week is the perfect time to give back to their community.

This year, the Center for Social Concerns (CSC) received about 320 applications for its fall break seminars, said Angela Miller-McGraw, director of Educational Immersion and the Appalachia seminar.

The turnout impressed Miller-McGraw, who hopes for even more applicants for the winter and spring break seminars. During fall break, students will participate in the Appalachia Seminar, the Gospel of Life Seminar, the Cultural Diversity Seminar, the Lives in the Balance: Youth, Violence, and Society Seminar or the Washington D.C. Seminar.

Senior Matthew Hughes, who participated twice in the fall break Appalachia Seminar, now works with the seminar’s task force.

Hughes said he has made a few changes to this year’s seminar, incorporating the CSC’s yearlong theme “Economic Justice for All” while remaining focused on Catholic Social Teaching – an essential element of all CSC seminars. This year’s participants also will take a closer look at some of the economic issues within Appalachia.

Due to the academic nature of the seminars, the deadline for submitting an application for a fall break service trip was last Thursday. Participants must complete classes, reading assignments, reflective papers and a final research paper.

“In the fall the participants tend to be upperclassmen because of their familiarity with the CSC’s seminars,” Hughes said. “We’ll have more freshmen in the spring as they become more aware of all the CSC offers.”

Junior Caroline Honsa volunteered at the Catholic Workers’ Home in Cleveland over winter break and observed the struggles of poverty firsthand, a touching experience that she said inspired her to apply for the Appalachia seminar over fall break.

“During one evening, a woman drove up in a car to let the volunteers know that a refrigerator had broken in a nearby store and free meat was available,” Honsa said. “I was touched that she bothered to tell them. I learned more fully that there are small opportunities to serve all around us and we just need to keep our ears, eyes, and hearts open in order to hear the call.”

CSC seminar students are not only volunteering to help others but also tackling social and political issues.

“With the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina upon us, these seminars give students the opportunities to ask questions we need to be asking, especially at a Catholic university,” said Father Bill Lies, director of the CSC. “We take the chance to ask questions about social responsibility, and all seminars ask these questions in different ways.”

Students participating in the Washington D.C. seminar will observe advocacy groups and elected officials to promote international peace and stability.

“Too often, we are aware of only what’s going on under the Dome,” Hughes said. “It’s important for us to step outside of our comfort zone and recognize the humanity of the folks we come into contact with.”