Community Service

By Rich Wilson

In the first floor hallway of the main building, we have displayed the Hallmarks of a Notre Dame Learning Community. We dedicated the Fall 2019 issue of The Summit Magazine to Hallmark No. 4: We commit ourselves to community service. 

It's well known that colleges like to see prospective students engaged in community service during their high school years; however, that's not the reason we include it in our graduation requirements.

One of the fundamental teachings of the Catholic faith is we live in community with one another. "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20) Our common humanity creates a bond between us which requires us to help each other.

Community service comes in many forms: making sandwiches for the poor, packing supplies for victims in crisis from war or weather, gathering trash by rivers or roadways, food collections for those who are food insecure, shoe collections for children in underdeveloped countries and raising money as we do with our Hands Across the Water event to supply water-purifying packets which provide clean water to the communities in Africa where the Sisters serve.

These are all important to living in the larger community. We perform these tasks out of love. However, the most effective form of community service for adolescents involves working face to face with the less fortunate: tutoring children in Catholic inner-city schools, working with disabled children at Stepping Stones Inc., delivering meals to elderly shut-ins or visiting the elderly in nursing homes. The benefits from this kind of community service are many.

Developing Compassion: Adolescents can be self-absorbed. It's natural given their stage of development. One of the responsibilities of the adults In children's lives is to refocus them from time-to-time on the needs of others. Helping the less fortunate is the perfect antidote to self-absorption.

Such encounters require the children to closely listen, so that they understand about the life of others and can then provide them the help they need. Helping the less fortunate also requires patience. The elderly and infirm move slowly. Those with physical or mental disabilities may not be able to perform tasks that are easy for the average teenager. It's not ad coincidence that patience is one of the Upper School character traits.

Encounters with those suffering hardships require children to be non-judgmental. They learn to accept others for whom they are. We teach children to regard such people as the face of God - to treat them with dignity, respect and care.

Building Self Worth: Initiating plans for community service may result in student resistance. They perceive other activities to be of more interest. It's curious to watch the transformation that happens as they proceed to help others. Most derive satisfaction from the experience. The gratefulness of others encourages them to seek another such experience. Sometimes they are surprised at how much they can do on their own. They see a role for themselves that they didn't see before.

Performance pressure at school can sometimes be discouraging to a teenager. If they are not making the grades they want to make or they aren't performing in athletics or in other activities they way they hoped, they can get down on themselves. Community service pulls them out of the artificial environment of school and into the real world. Helping others builds the child's self confidence and agency.

Learning about the World: Private school children often talk about living their life in a bubble. While life in the bubble is good, many often long to be out in the real world. Helping the less fortunate exposes them to different cultures, ways of doing things and a variety of perspectives. They learn a lot while helping others. 

They also learn about accepting help, which can be hard for some children. Illness and disability makes us vulnerable, which can be an uncomfortable experience. Yet, when someone comes along and extends a hand to help, we are grateful and want to express it. Again, it's not a coincidence that another Upper School character trait is gratitude.

Spiritual Act of Reflection: The Sisters believe that community service isn't done until those who serve spend some quiet time reflecting on the experience: Was I as helpful as I could have been? What did I learn from the experience? Such reflection informs ways we can improve what we do next time. Encouraging children to keep a community service journal and write their reflections after each experience is a worthwhile exercise of discipline and learning.

The Summit's various community service programs are fully described in the fall 2019 issue of The Summit magazine. You'll note the many mission partners we serve and have been doing so for many years. Community service is a form of philanthropy - using personal resources to help others. One of the planks of Summit's strategic plan is to nurture a culture of philanthropy in the Summit community and especially among our students. Christ calls us to serve others throughout our lives.

Inculcating that belief and providing opportunities to put that belief into action is Christ's way, the Sister's way and The Summit Way.

Reprinted from the fall 2019 issue of The Summit magazine.