FORT WAYNE — University of Saint Francis students who are reaching out to help those suffering from hunger, homelessness or poverty are, at the same time, earning college credits and building in real-life skills for their future careers.
Saint Francis students have embraced the power of giving and volunteerism. Some physician assistant students have collected nearly $100,000 to build an orphanage in Haiti.
Student Molly Pyle, 21, is volunteering at Science Central as part of her service learning class, and has spent more than 80 hours there during the first semester of her junior year.
Because of the efforts of Pyle and others, the university’s Center for Service Engagement was named by Washington Monthly as one of the top three universities in the nation for community service efforts in the 2013 Master’s Universities Rankings.
The university’s curriculum was compared with 682 other universities and rankings were based on community service, participation and hours served, said Katrina Boedeker, director of the center.
In the 2012-13 school year, 1,532 students worked 16,841 hours on community service projects, Boedeker said.
The program involves students, staff and faculty in opportunities for leadership and service to one another, the community and the church, she said.
The center was developed by Boedeker three years ago.
“I put the infrastructure in place after we received a grant in 2008,” Boedeker said.
The center then partnered with community nonprofit agencies to offer student services.
“We wanted to make service to community part of the institutional culture of the university,” Boedeker said.
“Students learn real-life skills by working in the community while doing related coursework,” she said.
Hands-on expereince is one of the things Pyle enjoys about the volunteer coursework at Science Central.
A liberal study major, Pyle graduated from Warsaw Community High School and is now studying holistic medicine in graduate school.
She has been volunteering at the Center for Service Engagement since she was a freshman, working at Community Harvest Food Bank, Mustard Seed Furniture Bank, the Rescue Mission and a number of events on campus, Pyle said.
At Science Central, she worked on the floor with visiting children and now works in the education department, assembling children’s lab kits.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “I’ve never had a bad experience when volunteering.”
Students can choose their causes. The center’s website provides a list of partnering agencies and students can search corresponding websites by area of interest, such as homelessness, food supply, youth services, poverty or illiteracy.
“I would periodically search the website and see who needed volunteers,” Pyle said.
Sociology students may work at special event planning for those in shelters, seeing firsthand the effects of domestic violence, homelessness and unhealthy relationships.
Accounting students may volunteer to help fill out tax forms for those who fall below average income guidelines, she said.
Other students have chosen to work with the physically disabled at Turnstone, learning that being disabled does not make anyone any less of an athlete, Boedeker said.
“They learn that all athletes have the same focus, goals, needs and wishes,” Boedeker said.
The act of volunteering is almost more beneficial to the volunteer than the recipient, Pyle believes.
“It’s so rewarding helping others,” she said. “The best way to make yourself happy is to make others happy.”
Students contacted area hotels and collected discarded furniture, which they delivered to Mustard Seed Furniture Bank. The charity provides free household furnishings to families and individuals who have lost their personal belongings because of fire, disaster or personal tragedies.
Saint Francis physician assistant students travel to Haiti every year on medical mission trips and the Formula for Life campus group has raised a significant amount of funding and materials, about $100,000 in the last year, to build an orphanage in Haiti, Boedeker said.
Students travel every year to serve some of the poorest populations in rural Kentucky, providing home rehabilitation, she said.
In spring, through a partnership with United Way, students from Saint Francis, Ivy Tech and IPFW will tour, serve and learn about social issues which affect the Fort Wayne community by serving at 11 different community agencies, Boedeker said.
The center also hosts annual events such as the Martin Luther King event in January, Stand Against Racism in April, Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week in November and USF Feeds the Fort in the fall, which benefits Community Harvest Food Bank.
Boedeker is adviser for Cougars Care, a Saint Francis student group that hosts monthly service projects on campus and in the community.
The group has participated in Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, Breakfast with St. Nicholas, community lead paint testing, planting trees with the Fort Wayne Great Tree Canopy project and Cougars Care-Suds for Buds (making and bottling 1100 bottles of laundry soap for Community Harvest Food Bank).
The center’s chosen book of study this year was “Acts of Faith” by Eboo Patel. The book explores service in the context of faith and advocates that individuals of differing faiths come together to serve and address the needs of the marginalized, Boedeker said.
“This is still very much the principle that guides us,” she said.