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Lecture explores connection between wellness, altruism

| Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The external benefits of volunteering can be obvious, but what about the internal?

Rebekah DeLine, the director of the Office for Civic and Social Engagement at Saint Mary’s College, explored this idea during her lecture Tuesday afternoon called “Health and Altruism: the Benefits of Volunteering.”

Before DeLine spoke of the sometimes unseen benefits of service opportunities, she said her goal is not to guilt people into volunteering.

“My goal here is not to make you feel bad about yourself — like you should be doing more, and you should serve, and you should make time for it,” she said. “You’re a student, and I get that, and I respect that. We have different seasons in life, and there might be a semester where you’ve got a pretty light load, and this is great, or you could be a student-athlete and maybe no semester is really great. But we want to meet you where you are.”

She said that the goal of the Office for Civic and Social Engagement is to “promote a life of social responsibility and to help people respond to the complex needs of the contemporary world,” and this is done through students engaging with the community and the community speaking on how it can be helped.

“Our first goal in our office is actually not to serve, serve, serve, or volunteer, volunteer, volunteer, but it’s to engage the students, engage the community and connect the two,” DeLine said. “From that relationship, hopefully, will come the opportunity to serve or the opportunity to accompany or advocate for those in need. That’s sort of where we come from. I think it’s very aligned with the mission of the college as well as the Sisters of the Holy Cross, who are more interested in justice than service. More interested in walking with and helping.”

It is through this engagement with the community, DeLine said, that students can grow and promote their own well-being.

“It is working with others, focusing on serving them, in and of itself promotes inner health, because you’re not necessarily focused on your problems and your worries, which can be very challenging,” she said. “You are giving yourself a break from worrying about yourself and taking time to learn about others’ hopes and needs.”

DeLine said volunteering also provides an opportunity for students to learn skills that cannot be taught in a lecture hall.

“A lot of students will use volunteering, and not in a negative way, to build their resume. It is definitely skill building,” she said. “There is a difference between learning what you learn in a classroom and applying that in real life. When I was at the Red Cross, one of our interview questions was always about flexibility. You don’t learn about flexibility in a classroom. You learn flexibility by having to deal with complicated situations and responding.”

The Office for Civic and Social Engagement offers many opportunities for the Saint Mary’s community to work with the outside community, DeLine said. Some opportunities include Beyond the Belle, an after-school tutoring and mentor program; Adopt a Family, a seasonal opportunity to donate Christmas gifts to families requiring assistance; and helping with on-campus composting and edible food recovery for the Center For the Homeless in South Bend.

There are also one-day opportunities available throughout the semester called Days of Service.

“We’re trying to do one a month, where it’s just one day of service, easy to sign up, low barrier to entry. We provide transportation and food,” DeLine said. “The next one is October 27, 11 [a.m.] to 2 [p.m.] That’s at Greenbridge Growers, which is a sustainable farm. It’s awesome in and of itself, but their goal is not necessarily sustainable farming and aquaponics, but it’s actually employing adults with autism.”

DeLine said the office works to keep in contact with organizations throughout the greater community to be able to provide opportunities for a variety of interests.

“On a regular basis, we try to maintain contact with about 80 community partners, so that any student who walks in, and they’re interested in a specific population — say individuals with disabilities or mothers in crisis pregnancies — we can connect them with a specific agency and help them to sign up and volunteer,” she said. 

The office sends out a weekly email highlighting the week’s service opportunities and contact information for a community partner. DeLine said she is always willing to discuss volunteer possibilities.

“They could definitely [come to our office],” she said. “I am always happy to meet a student for coffee and just talk about it, or if they don’t drink coffee, we can find a different beverage.”

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