October 19, 2012

New Four-Year Service Program Aims to Build Bonds Between Students and Community Partners

New Four-Year Service Program Aims to Build Bonds Between Students and Community Partners

Since its founding in 1919, Emmanuel College has always been rooted in the tradition of service. Hundreds of students go out into the local community and volunteer every year, and being able to give back to organizations in need is an amazing way to connect with the city of Boston. Emmanuel students pride themselves on the fact that helping others is so deeply ingrained in their culture.

That is why Emmanuel's Campus Ministry Office is introducing a unique faith-based service opportunity for students this academic year. The "Four-Year Service Program" pairs students with a particular organization in the local community, at which they commit to volunteering on a regular basis throughout their time at Emmanuel. Depending on the needs of the organization, students will volunteer no less than twice a month, forming consistent relationships with these community partners.

Director of Community Service and Service Learning Deirdre Bradley-Turner and Campus Minister for Social Justice and Education Crista Carrick Mahoney are the ones behind the new initiative.

"We've always had students in my time here who have committed to volunteering individually on a regular basis, and a lot of them end up sticking with the same agency," said Bradley-Turner. "But we have not had a formalized program in some time."

There are currently five community partners with which students can commit to volunteering for the full four years - OLPH Mission Grammar School, Sociedad Latina, St. Ambrose Family Shelter, Cradles to Crayons and Nazareth Residence. Each organization offers different services and opportunities, but they all share one thing in common - they are extremely grateful for the help they receive from dedicated Emmanuel students.

Beyond the commitment of volunteering regularly, the program includes a theological reflection component that allows students and Campus Ministry staff to gather and discuss their experiences. The hope is that as students of a Catholic college, those participating can grow both personally and spiritually through service and reflection. Performing service so often at a dedicated site can open the eyes of the students to so many new experiences, and Bradley-Turner hopes that the underlying message remains rooted in faith.

"It's really important that we have the time to reflect on and process these activities, and to make sure that we can connect them to our faith and motivate students to make those connections," she said.

Mahoney hopes that volunteering regularly can provide students with perspective and insight into the needs of the wider community. She also recognizes that the more time students spend with their community partners, the more they will ultimately receive from the monthly reflections.

"It is a faith-based, theological component of the program," said Mahoney, "so you need to be able to have enough experience to work with and reflect on."

Ideally, students would begin the program at the beginning of their freshman year and continue serving at their selected site right up through graduation.  However, Bradley-Turner recognizes that older students may want to participate, and is more than happy to welcome new additions from any class year.

"We're not ones to turn away students who want to participate in service," she said. "Ideally we want first-year students to commit to the entirety of the program right from the beginning, but we are not opposed to opening it up to upperclassmen as well."

And for Samantha Bissell '15, that is exactly what happened. As a sophomore, she heard about the forming of the program and was immediately drawn to the idea.

"I've done community service through ECCO (Emmanuel College Community Outreach), but it's always at a different site every week," she said. "This program is totally different. I'm looking forward to being a constant presence for someone, even if it's not for the full four years. I feel like I can make a bigger impact that way."

One student who will be able to see the program out from beginning to end is Katherine Campbell '16.

"I heard about it at Orientation and some of the other involvement fairs, and it was something that really jumped out at me," Campbell said. "Being able to stay involved with the same organization for all four years and build that relationship is definitely something I'm interested in."

- Dan Bourque '13