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Students clear out of Bend for break

Rohan Anand | Friday, October 13, 2006

Over fall break, a record 472 Notre Dame students will travel to sites all over America to engage in a variety of service-oriented activities, using their time off for a work far different than studying.

Most participants will be involved in one of the five one-credit seminars offered during fall, winter, and spring breaks by the Center for Social Concerns. These groups are primarily led by undergraduate and graduate students, according to Angela Miller-McGraw, director of seminars and educational immersions at the CSC.

“The goals of the seminars are to foster a diverse and community-based learning experience,” she said. “Our student coordinators lead great reflections to help other students find their academic interests and their vocation. Overall, they help students find their own voice.”

However, a group of 120 students will take an alternate path by heading south to help rebuild New Orleans, operating independently of the CSC for no credit.

Junior Caity Schneeman, chair of the Gulf Coast Task Force that’s in charge of the excursion, has led several recovery trips to New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The group she’s taking this week will be her largest yet, Schneeman said.

“It’s ridiculous how there are still hundreds of homes that need to be gutted, so our goal is to remove furniture, take down walls, and repair them for rebuilding,” she said. “It’s a really effective way of doing service.”

The students will work with Catholic Charities and Operation Helping Hands – affiliates of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Funding and student recruitment has been so successful that Schneeman is “pleased and excited” about the upcoming trip.

“I really think we’re going to do a lot of amazing things down in New Orleans,” she said, “and I never imagined we’d get so many people to come. We might be able to gut as many as twenty to thirty houses, and it’s really effective and rewarding.”

Those students opting for the CSC route will participate in either the Appalachia Seminar in the Appalachian Valley, the Cultural Diversity Seminar in Chicago, the Washington, D.C. Seminar, the Lives in the Balance – Youth, Violence and Society Seminar in Cincinnati and the Gospel of Life Seminar in Washington, D.C.

The Appalachia seminar is by far the largest in the CSC, with around 230 students traveling to 20 sites throughout Appalachia to build homes and get a “hands-on experience about the social and economic problems of the region,” said student assistant junior Claire Murphy.

“The CSC as a whole is focusing on economic justice for all as the focal point for this larger seminar,” Murphy said. “Students will be looking at the problems and issues of the Appalachia area through that lens.”

Students signed up for the seminar have already attended three classes and listened to guest speakers in order to become more familiar with the history, culture and challenges of the area. Students also had to do a series of readings to understand “how we’re helping the situation,” said freshman participant Courtney Klosterman.

“I’ve never been to the Appalachia region, and I expect to do a lot of work,” she said. “But I’m really looking forward to closer social ties with my group and discovering the positive things about the area.”

The Cultural Diversity Seminar, though less service-oriented, will immerse 10 students in Chicago’s ethnic neighborhoods where they will initiate dialogue with various community leaders. They will be studying the demographics and frustrations of diversity in Chicago through coordination with the Urban Life Center.

“Our goal is to ensure that every single person can identify with multi-ethnic backgrounds,” said Ashley Williams, sophomore student coordinator. “We want to make it personal for everybody.”

A group of 11 students will head east to participate in the Washington, D.C. Seminar to study foreign relations and international affairs.

“We’ll be meeting with a wide range of think tanks, advocacy groups and governmental organizations that span the ideological spectrum to try to get a balanced picture of foreign relations today,” said senior student coordinator Christian Hoeffel.

The Lives in the Balance – Youth, Violence and Society Seminar will examine how the world of youth is impacted by violence. Students will study areas in South Bend and Over-the-Rhine, an inner-city neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio

The Gospel of Life seminar will examine the death penalty, euthanasia, abortion, cloning, stem cell research and related life issues, and how they affect election results. Students will travel to Washington, D.C. and meet with Church leaders, elected officials and representatives of agencies that focus on these issues.

The common thread uniting each of these issues is students’ call to action and faith. Through their involvement in these programs, they will learn to question and gain a basic understanding of social justice issues as American citizens.

“This will be an education for them,” Miller-McGraw said. “When one has the experience to offer himself to another, they are in turn educating themselves. Through the act of serving and giving back you learn much about yourself and the community.”