Students immersed in service find their lives changed

Those of you who are regular readers of OSV Newsweekly will know that twice a year we run special sections featuring Catholic colleges and universities. Not only is this a great opportunity for those institutions to let our readers know what they have to offer, it’s an ideal chance for us, editorially, to highlight the achievements of the students on those campuses.

This week’s section (Pages 9-24), which focuses on service-learning opportunities in Catholic higher education, is one of my favorites. Though I didn’t go to a Catholic school during my college years, I was very active in Catholic Campus Ministry and the Newman Center at my school. And one of the most important things we did there was serve others. We got up early on Saturday mornings to stir giant pots of grits (shout-out to the South!) at the local soup kitchen. We tutored and volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House. And my junior year I took an alternative spring break trip to Kentucky, via the Christian Appalachian Project, where I mastered tacking shingles to a roof. It was an incredible experience of community, solidarity and growth.

Editor's preview of this week's issue

Of course, I’m not saying anything earth-shattering. Anyone who has spent time in service to others knows that those who truly benefit from experiences like these are the ones who are doing the serving, not the ones who are being served. Simply to have eyes opened to those who live, as Pope Francis would say, on the peripheries of life, can be a life-changing experience.

That’s what you’ll find when you read the stories in our special section this week: lives changed. The students have worked with the poor and for just causes at home and abroad. They return from those experiences energized; some even forgo high-paying careers for those at nonprofits or for more years of service.

The sidebar on page 12 quantitatively illustrates the effectiveness of these opportunities of service. During a survey — conducted by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University — of approximately 5,000 men and women who volunteered with the Catholic Volunteer Network, 98 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that their time of service made them a better person. Ninety-eight percent. Additionally, 97 percent “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed that their volunteer program helped them become who they are today.

There can’t be any debate that dedicating some period in life to serving others can do nothing but benefit the common good. These college students featured this week found that out early in life and are a good reminder to us of what our priorities in life should be.

On another note, I’d like to welcome Scott Warden as our new associate editor. He’ll be an integral part of the team here, and you’ll no doubt be seeing his byline before long. Blessings on your week.