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Seniors continue to serve post graduation despite pandemic

| Friday, May 15, 2020

With their undergraduate careers ending amidst a pandemic, the graduating class of 2020 faces a changing world. One thing has not changed: the decision of some to participate in various forms of service work and programs after graduation.

A popular option for many students interested in post-graduation service is the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). Christopher Lembo is one such student. He will work in Atlanta next August teaching math, science and religion at a Catholic middle school.

While Lembo will be teaching full-time during the school year, the ACE program also involves summer coursework which, after the two-year program, earns teaching fellows a master’s degree of education.

Lembo said he first heard about the program during his junior year from a friend who was then interning with ACE. However, Lembo’s experience with people in the program is what really drew him to it.

“The point when I realized the program was for me was when I realized everyone who I knew who was somewhat affiliated with ACE were some of the best people that I had ever met,” Lembo said. “Those are the people that I want to be like. They’re just some of my greatest role models.”

Alison O’Neil is another student who will be working with the ACE program after graduation. She’s also going to Atlanta, where she will be teaching middle school social studies. She said the ongoing COVID-19 situation has affected how the preparation and training for participants in the ACE program have taken place.

“The way the program works is that they train us basically for eight weeks,” O’Neil said. “That’s not going to be on campus this time, obviously, but they’re doing it over Zoom.“

O’Neil said she knew about the program early on as a college student and was attracted to ACE for a variety of reasons.

“I always liked teaching and tutoring as a concept, and I really liked the idea of post-grad service too,” O’Neil said.

While ACE draws graduating students interested in service, it is far from the only program graduates of the class of 2020 are participating in. Holly Harris will be serving with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic in the Corps’ youth development sector. 

Harris said that while she knows she’ll be working in youth development, exactly what she’ll be doing probably won’t become clear until after she finishes the three-month training portion of the program. 

“It could mean anything from teaching sexual health programs to teaching critical thinking programs after school,” Harris said. “It’s 27 months total. Three months of training plus 24 months of service. It is possible to extend it by a year, but we’ll see how it goes.”

Harris also said the pandemic has definitely affected her plans. The Peace Corps suspended operations and evacuated members of the organization back in March in response to the pandemic, and while programs are set to resume, Harris said some uncertainty remains.

“All programs are still suspended until Sept. 30 at least, so the earliest I would leave would not be until October and originally I was going to depart in August,” she said.

Harris said she was drawn to the Peace Corp over other potential service programs because of the good the program does as well as the potential to broaden perspectives and learn while helping others.

“Of course when you’re there, the goal is to make tangible, sustainable change in small ways by touching individual people and changing the course of their lives and instituting programs to help their communities, but what’s really going to change is how you view the world and how you interpret cultures that are different from your own,” Harris said. 

Georgi Saucedo is another graduating senior who is planning to participate in an international service program in the coming year. He will be working with a Catholic non-profit organization called Farm of the Child which serves to educate, protect and promote healing and spiritual formation for orphaned and abandoned children in Honduras. 

Saucedo said he plans to attend medical school but knew he wanted to participate in a service project and was drawn to Farm of the Child’s Catholic mission, its emphasis on teaching and the people it serves. 

“This is something that sounds awesome that I really wanted to do, and it has a pretty good Notre Dame connection,” Saucedo said.

Saucedo said that service with Farm of the Child often involves both a teaching and administrative aspect.

“Once you get on the ground, they kind of see where your talents can be of service to the community, but it’s very, very likely I’ll be in a teaching role,” he said. “So I’ll be in the school, and there’s usually also an administrative aspect. Usually, you’re teaching the children in Spanish for whatever subjects they need, and then also you might be doing something in the offices that’s more administrative.”

Saucedo said service is something he has been interested in since he was young, and he became seriously interested in the idea as an undergrad. He said the Catholic ideal of service was something he always found appealing.

“There’s always kind of, like, peace? I don’t know if it’s peace, maybe joy actually is the right word. But there’s always this joy I feel when I think of doing service like that,” Saucedo said. “So I was like, well I’ve always wanted to do service, so at that point, it was just, ‘Where do I want to go?’”

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