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CSC receives service award

Ryan Sydlik | Friday, October 13, 2006

Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC) received a distinguished award from the United States Catholic Mission Association Oct. 2 at a banquet concluding the USCMA’s annual conference held at Notre Dame.

A network of Catholic organizations, religious communities and laity based in Washington, D.C., the USCMA’s stated purpose is to bring together people across the globe serving Christ through the Church.

The award was presented to Father William Lies, executive director of the Center, and Father Don McNeill, who founded the center in 1983 for “23 years of cross-cultural global mission in service to the Church and the world.”

Since its inception, the CSC has provided educational experiences through social service inspired by Catholic teaching. It also assists students, faculty, staff and alumni in reflecting on social issues and responsibilities.

Throughout its 23 years, the CSC has expanded greatly in its abilities and mission.

“The Center has grown from an organization that originally coordinated local and national volunteer and experiential learning efforts for Notre Dame students to a nationally-recognized center deeply rooted in community-based learning, research and service informed by Catholic social tradition,” Lies said.

Lies said students are very involved in service both to the CSC and to other organizations.

“Eighty-five percent of all Notre Dame students are involved in service at least once a year, which is well above the national collegiate average, and also of that, nearly 40 percent engage in at least one to two hours of service weekly,” he said.

In addition, Lies said that 10 percent of graduates take part in a year or more of service after graduation.

The CSC has had a number of memorable moments over the years.

The Center was given the former WNDU building in 1983 to house its programs. Though many other campus groups were competing for the space, University President Emeritus Father Theodore Hesburgh gave the building to the CSC because he wanted mission and service to have a formal base on campus.

The CSC promptly created the Summer Service Learning program, in which students go to sites across the United States to perform service for people in need. The program now sends students to about 200 sites every summer. The CSC expanded the program’s role in 1996 to include the International Summer Service Learning Program, which extends service to across the world. It has grown from five placements in three countries to 36 placements in 14 countries today.

The CSC has also engaged in community-based research to enhance the learning opportunities for students and faculty.

One of the CSC’s most recent efforts has been to coordinate the University’s response to the devastation of the Gulf Coast region after Hurricane Katrina, particularly focusing on long-term recovery efforts.

Lies said the Center is seeking to add more one-credit seminar placements as many of them have a very large surplus of applicants. The Center also hopes to hold more small, issue-focused seminars such as the “Lives in the Balance” seminar, which would examine violence in schools, and to increase the number of international opportunities to students. Whatever new features the CSC adds, it will remain grounded in its original mission, Lies said.

“The CSC will always seek to be a leader in the field of community-based research and service-learning, while challenging Notre Dame undergraduates to develop a life-long commitment to social justice,” he said.