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Students ship packages to troops

Madeline Buckley | Thursday, November 13, 2008

Notre Dame students taking a seminar about mental and physical disabilities will put their classroom learning into action Saturday when they join local autistic teens to put together packages for American soldiers in Iraq.

The class, a college seminar called Disability taught by Professor Essaka Joshua, collaborates with the LOGAN Center in South Bend, which offers resources for the disabled, Bridget LeFevour, a member of the class, said. While educating students about the social and medical aspects of being disabled, the class also requires students to perform a minimum of three hours of service work with the LOGAN Center and hold an event at the center, she said.

LeFevour said a LOGAN Center worker suggested the class hold a service event for the students to do with the clients, 22 autistic teenagers.

“What is most beneficial for the clients is a full circle event, with us helping them, but also having them give back to the community,” she said.

The students will meet with the autistic teens on Saturday at the LOGAN Center for lunch, and then they will assemble the packages together, LeFevour said. The Notre Dame vs. Navy football game is during the event and it inspired the theme of the event, she said.

“The football game will be on in the background which is where we got the title of the event, ‘Respect on and off the Field,'” LeFevour said.

The class brainstormed about possible service projects to do with the clients and decided to hold an event in which the classmates and the clients put together packages with cards, games and food items to send to soldiers serving abroad, LeFevour said.

“We looked online and found a Web site that provided information on what soldiers want in packages sent to them,” she said. “We narrowed the list down to ten items, which ranged from socks, a certain kind of shirt, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, crossword puzzles yo-yo’s, and things like that.”

The students and the clients will also write cards to the soldiers to put into the packages, LeFevour said.

“What they really want is cards,” she said.

LeFevour said the costs of the packages, postage and items going into the packages add up to about $2,275, so the class had to apply for grant money from the University. The class received half of the funds from the President’s Circle and half from Learning Beyond the Classroom, she said. They also received some money from the Center for Social Concerns, and the class members asked their dorms to donate an item to go into the packages.

“We knew of the President’s Circle and Learning Beyond the Classroom so we wrote proposals to both of those about how doing the service project is a learning project for us,” she said.

While the event offers the opportunity to give back to the community, it also allows the class to experience the real life context of their studies in the classroom, LeFevour said. The central focus of the class is the different gazes, or ways people look at the disabled, she said. Doctors look at the disabled in a certain way and ordinary people look at the disabled in another specific way, she said.

“We are going to see how the gazes work, now that we have talked about them,” LeFevour said. “It will be interesting to see how we will interact and relate with them now that we are taking the class.”

LeFevour said she looks forward to getting to know the teenagers as well.

“I’m hoping that I can learn how to relate with them and build some kind of relationship with them where it doesn’t seem as if I’m helping them, but more as equals,” she said.