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Fair aims to introduce students to service opportunities

| Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Walking past the Main Building, the new student center and perfectly manicured landscaping while going about our daily business, it can be easy to forget there is a world outside Notre Dame. The Center for Social Concerns (CSC) provides opportunities for students to get outside “the Notre Dame bubble” and become active in the surrounding South Bend community — and it will hold its annual fair Wednesday, showcasing some of its community partners and student service groups.

Annie Cahill Kelly, the CSC’s community partnerships and service learning director, said the fair offers students a unique chance to explore service opportunities.

Photo Courtesy of Annie Cahill Kelly

A Notre Dame student volunteers at La Casa de Amistad. The organization offers various programming to Hispanic youth and adults and is one of many service opportunities available in South Bend.

“For the students, it’s a really great opportunity to speak directly with the representatives from each of the organizations … to learn more about the good work that is happening, to learn about ways they can get involved and ways they can contribute to the work and the mission,” she said.

Over 30 of the CSC’s 90 community partners will have representatives and student volunteers in attendance to discuss positions at various organizations. The organizations deal with social justice issues such as domestic violence, youth development, tutoring and immigration.

“I think that everyone who comes will find something of interest, and even within some of the organizations they might have particular research needs or something that might take students in a direction that they’re really interested in but might not be readily evident from just looking at the website,” Cahill Kelly said.

While some students seek out volunteering opportunities on their own, many discover service through class. For senior Barnes Werner, a freshman Spanish class requirement has led him to become involved with Community Alliance to Serve Hispanics, or CASH. He is now on the board of the organization.

“Specifically, we do tutoring programs at Brown Center, which is for kids who usually are either speaking both languages at home or only speaking Spanish,” he said. “We also teach English as a New Language classes, which are usually for adults, and it’s helping people get used to speaking English — figuring out how to work around what they need to do during the day based on their needs specifically. I really liked it so I’ve been doing it ever since [freshman year].”

Senior Adrianna Duggan sought out service at the Center for the Homeless after participating in a summer program in high school; the service ended up fulfilling a requirement for a CSC class she was taking on poverty and politics. Duggan found an unexpected sense of community at the Center and has been volunteering at the front desk there since her sophomore year.

“You could go there and read a book and then only kind of look up when people are asking you a question, but I just really like to talk to people and they’re pretty open if they know you care about them and are invested in how they’re doing,” she said. “You really do develop relationships with people, which I’ve always appreciated.”

The Center’s main mission is to help the homeless develop and achieve long term goals, but there are a variety of ways to contribute to the Center’s community, Duggan said, especially working with children. The CSC’s community partnerships provide students with opportunities to apply what they learn on campus to the real world and see it play out.

“Ultimately, the community partners are co-educators, they really are,“ Cahill Kelly said. “They are tremendous educators of our students and are bringing to bear on students’ education such a wonderful perspective and wonderful experience related to particular issues of social justice.” 

According to the community partners’ data, Cahill Kelly said at least 2,250 Notre Dame students gave over 94,000 hours of service last year. However, Cahill Kelly believes that number is an underestimate. The fair, she said, is an opportunity for students to explore ways in which they can develop and learn more about social issues in our nation and world.

“I know students are so good-hearted and of good will and want to make a difference and an impact. And what I’ve heard from students over the years is that often the life that is impacted the most is their own, that they experience tremendous growth and impact in their own lives,” Cahill Kelly said. “It’s a really great opportunity to contribute and to grow.”

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