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Freshmen to Get Early Introduction to Service

by Nancy Solomon on 04/26/2018
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SLU is launching a new initiative in fall of its bicentennial year, introducing the newest Billikens to the University’s long-standing tradition of service to others before their first day of class.

All SLU freshmen and transfer students who are new to SLU – about 1,600 students   and their peer mentors will engage in service projects at sites across the St. Louis area during the inaugural New Student Day of Service: Making a Difference from Day One on Saturday, Aug. 25, the Saturday of Fall Welcome Week.

Students writing cards

SLU students write cards to hospice patients during Showers of Service on April 21. Going forward, Showers of Service will become an increasingly important community engagement event for SLU students, faculty and staff. Photo by Steve Dolan

By introducing new students to volunteerism early in their college life, the University signals that service to others is a critical part of the SLU experience throughout the year, according to Kent Porterfield, Ph.D., vice president for student development.

 “Throughout our 200 year history, SLU has been committed to serving our community,” Porterfield said. “Ongoing community engagement is our goal, and we want to start building this commitment from our students from day one.”

Also new this fall, SLU will award 18, $1,800 grants to develop long-term service projects led by students in collaboration with community organizations.

Make a Difference Day

 While SLU’s commitment to serving others remains stronger than ever, it will look different as the University ends its organized participation in Make a Difference Day, a national day of service that is held in the fall.

 “The Center for Service and Community Engagement has intentionally timed this change in our service-day traditions to coincide with SLU’s bicentennial.  It represents an important re-set for our community engagement priorities for the next 100 years,” said Bryan Sokol, Ph.D., director of the Center for Service and Community Engagement.

“SLU’s Make a Difference Day has grown into a wonderful tradition over the last 20 years, but the size of the event and its timing during the semester is out-of-sync with the patterns and priorities of university life.”

Going forward, SLU upperclassmen and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff, will have the opportunity to volunteer for a day of spring service during Showers of Service. Sponsored by Alpha Phi Omega and supported by the Center for Service and Community Engagement, Showers of Service is ripe for expansion.

 “While we continue to encourage individuals to participate in Make a Difference Day in their communities, we want to make Showers of Service the big day of campus service that will engage everyone,” said Bobby Wassel, Ph.D., assistant director of the Center for Service and Community Engagement.

Visit Make a Difference Day to learn more about community-based volunteering opportunities for that national day of service.

Building Community

The new approach to community engagement recognizes that a service day for new SLU students is a powerful way of helping them form relationships with others, Wassel said. When surveyed, 95 percent of freshmen said they were more likely to become engaged in service after volunteering during an organized day of service, and 97 percent said participating together builds community.

 “By holding a day of service at the beginning of the academic year, we can capture first-year students’ interest in service and direct them to other ways to stay involved throughout the year,” Wassel said.

 “Having them engage in service from the moment they step foot on campus, even before classes start, underscores the importance SLU places on community engagement.”

Fall Welcome

The New Student Day of Service will be an integral part of the Fall Welcome, said Jackie Weber, chair of the Fall Welcome committee and associate director of housing residence life and student involvement.

The event might include a brunch where families can come together before a brief ceremony to send students into the community, reinforcing SLU’s commitment to develop men and women for and with others.

“We see this being a non-denominational service where students move forward to serve with both blessing and excitement, and families feel good about leaving their students on campus knowing they are embarking on a life-changing experience that very day,” Weber said.

1818 Grants

 In addition to New Student Day of Service, SLU students, faculty and staff can apply for new 1818 Community Engagement Grants, which will fund projects fueled by the passion of SLU students who will partner with community organizations to make meaningful change. Applications for grants will be accepted in September.

 “The new 1818 Community Engagement grants are intended for student-led projects that reflect their sustained commitment to service and promote social justice in our communities,” Sokol said.

 “Sustained service reflects a long-term mindset and value to service for humanity, as well as a richer opportunity to build relationships with those who are marginalized and members of underserved groups. We cannot truly be ‘for and with others’ if we don’t create better opportunities to build these sustained relationships.”