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Summer service program promotes community through service

| Tuesday, August 21, 2018

In contrast to summers spent interning or studying abroad, this summer saw a multitude of Notre Dame students devote their time to serving communities in need.

The Summer Service Learning Program, or SSLP, is a volunteering program aimed to educate students on Catholic social tradition through service to marginalized populations.

Photo courtesy of Ben Wilson
Junior Shelene Baiyee, second from left, and a group of other Notre Dame students who completed a Summer Service Learning Project, or SSLP, in northern St. Louis over the summer.

Ben Wilson, director of SSLP, said about 245 Notre Dame students participated in the program this year and served at around 160 different sites.

Wilson explained that SSLP students volunteer for eight weeks over the summer and work for a wide variety of organizations, including free healthcare clinics, homeless shelters and educational facilities.

Though students only volunteer for eight weeks, the entire SSLP experience spans about eight months, he said.

“We have a few preparatory class sessions in the spring to get them ready and then they’re doing most of the course work in the summer,” he said. “Then they complete their follow-up work when they get back.”

Wilson said students may apply to participate in SSLP any time between Nov. 1 and Feb. 1 of the preceding school year. Admission to the process is rolling, he said, so he encourages students to apply early.

Wilson said what students gain from the program varies widely for each individual.

“For some students, they very quickly recognize themselves in the individuals they’re working with,” he said. “And for others, this is really a very eye-opening experience. So there’s a whole range of student narrative that’s brought them to the SSLP.”

Sophomore Kevin Fox volunteered for DeSales Service Work, a Catholic organization serving impoverished areas of Camden, N.J.

Fox said he spent part of the program working in a local garden, where he farmed vegetables and kept bees. However, he said, much of his work varied daily.

“In the mornings, I would do anything that DeSales Service Work needed help with, which included cutting grass for local parks, picking up trash, and feeding the hungry,” he said.

Fox emphasized the importance of immersing himself in the community he was serving.

“It’s important to really throw yourself [in] and let everything else go,” he said.

Sophomore Kate Brown, who also completed an SSLP this summer, volunteered at The Carpenter’s Place, a day center for the homeless in Rockford, Ill.

Brown said The Carpenter’s Place provides a number of different resources to those experiencing homelessness, including employment training and assistance finding housing.

The goal of the organization is to “help people get the tools they need to rebuild their lives,” Brown said.

She said she especially enjoyed getting to know the guests at The Carpenter’s Place.

“Working with marginalized populations and, in general, working in that close space with people in different life situations than you can be kind of difficult,” she said. “But it’s really, really worth it.”

Junior Shelene Baiyee, another SSLP participant, worked with Revitalization 2000, an organization that aims to build up impoverished communities in northern St. Louis.

“The goal was to form friendships across different backgrounds for a lifetime,” Baiyee said.

During the first half of her SSLP, Baiyee and her team farmed vegetables in a community garden. Later, she also helped run a summer camp for underprivileged children, she said.

“[The camp] was geared towards aviation and the environment,” Baiyee said.

Baiyee said part of what she valued most about her SSLP was the opportunity to build relationships with the children she worked with.

“Just seeing them smile and open up to you—that was really cool,” she said.

Wilson said he enjoys seeing students grow over the course of the program.

“I am really inspired when I see students come away from the summer with a sense of gratitude,” he said. “Gratitude for the amazing lives of the people that they’re meeting, a sense of appreciation for the resilience and vulnerability and precariousness, in some cases, of the people they’ve met. And to walk away with a greater reverence for human life. We see it just so consistently.”

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About Mary Steurer

Mary is a senior sociology major and journalism minor from St. Louis. An aspiring religion reporter, Mary has spent the last year covering conversations about the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis at Notre Dame.

Contact Mary