As I hunkered down because of the blizzard outside, I had some time to do both reading and thinking (a luxury to be sure). I happened upon an article on www.npr.org entitled “Just Your Typical Teenagers Helping to Fight World Poverty” by Poncie Rutsch and Marc Silver (January 31, 2015). They shared the lives of three 15-year-olds and the passion they have for serving humanity, specifically by helping to eradicate world hunger. All three were absolutely inspiring, but the one that stood out to me (as the Director of Service Learning at Lewis University) was the young woman from North Carolina who joined her high school “global health club” and helped to raise $40,000 in a year for non-profit Partners in Health.
It made me think about conversations I have had with students at Lewis. I’ve spoken to many who are in service learning classes and others who join student organizations that are required to do service as part of their annual responsibilities. There are lots of very well-meaning students and hard-working faculty supporting their efforts. For a stellar example, John Carey and his radio broadcast students raise thousands of dollars every year for Hope Children’s Hospital. Impressive! But a lot of students (and adults) settle for meager fundraising results. I’ve asked students after a bake sale or other event how they did. They frequently answer, “Really well! We raised $80.” One could applaud this based on a well-known biblical passage about the widow’s mite, Jesus’ praise for a woman who gave all she had. And we know that the Lewis community is not made up of wealthy people so perhaps it does apply. But I would argue that there is another reason that we are content with small fundraising revenues: we don’t think we can do any better!
One of the desired outcomes of service learning (SL) is that students will emerge from an SL class with “…confidence that s/he can be an agent of change.” The young people in this article had a few things in common. One, they had families dedicated to service. Lewis can be that family and encourage each member of it to be socially responsible, if students (or colleagues) haven’t experienced this yet. Two, these 15-year-olds were exposed to global realities that caused them to realize that there are inequities locally, nationally and around the world. Lewis (and arguably all) students need to be strongly urged to travel and experience cultures and realities different from their own. They need to be “globally connected.” Three, each person who recognizes both their responsibility and their capacity to evoke change has grown in knowledge of issues and realities that face persons both near and far. Numerous disciplines, along with the new Peace Studies Minor, build the capacity of participants to better understand the complexities of injustice and inequity via intellectual engagement, and begin to propose ways that each person, small group and community can begin to proactively respond and seek to play a part in establishing right relationship among persons and systems. Bottom line, we need to believe we can make a difference, and then we will.
Consider joining CRS Ambassadors (previously called STAND) in University Ministry, or take a Service Learning class to grow understanding of ways we can deepen knowledge and be agents of change. Study abroad and stretch! Think about adding a Peace Studies Minor to your undergraduate academic agenda. To follow up on any of these suggestions, contact the following persons:
Sean Ruane, Coordinator of Social Justice
Chris Swanson, Director of Study Abroad
Dr. James Burke, Assoc. Professor of Theology
Director, Center of Ministry & Spirituality
Advisor: Peace Studies Minor
Dr. Christie Billups, Asst. Professor of Theology
Director of Service Learning
Advisor: Peace Studies Minor