‘Small actions can make a difference’

Five students from Catholic colleges and universities throughout the country reflected on the impact service-learning has made on their lives and had on their faith journeys. Read their stories below.

Coleen Calamari, junior,

The Catholic University of America

Originally from Washington Township, N.J., Coleen Calamari hopes to serve others one day by being a pediatric or labor and delivery nurse. During her nursing career, she wants to be a healing and positive presence to many families.

Calamari is a leader of Brookland Outreach, a service group at Catholic University that plans events on campus throughout the year, such as “Halloween on Campus” and “Spring to CUA” at Easter. During these events, local families enjoy food, games and prizes. The events attract as many as 1,000 families each time.

Throughout her service experience, Calamari has been impressed by the extent that the events have grown throughout the past few years.

“I’m happy that the families enjoy the holiday celebrations that we prepare for them,” she said. “In addition, I’m impressed by the other deeply caring people who I have met. The volunteers, workers and other service leaders have generously shared their talents in unique ways.”

Her service experience has not only changed but also challenged her in positive ways. “I have gone beyond my comfort zone, and I’ve taken on a leadership position,” Calamari said. “In addition, I’ve learned that I am capable of much more than I originally expected. For example, I never expected that I would take part in planning an event for almost 1,000 people, but now I have. Service has shown me that I can become a better leader and person by learning from others.”

Calamari’s view of society’s needs have also been affected. Because the events provide upbeat celebrations that are greatly appreciated by D.C. families, she’s seen the significance and rewards of reaching out and brightening someone else’s day. That impression has helped to shape her future goals.

“Being a service leader has influenced my desire to serve a certain population within nursing,” she said. “The experience of interacting with the families at our events has reinforced my aspiration to work with families in my nursing career.”

Sarah Dufresne, senior,

Thomas Aquinas College

Although her degree is a bachelor’s in liberal arts, Sarah Dufresne explained that credit-wise, it is the equivalent of a double major in theology and philosophy.

After graduation, she plans to work for one year with Justice for All, a pro-life organization based in Wichita, Kan., that travels to colleges and universities across the country training college students to have informed and compassionate dialogue about abortion. After that, Dufresne would like to attend graduate school for theology and ultimately teach and speak for the Church.

Over the past six years, Dufresne has participated in a number of pro-life activities, using the skills she’s learned from Justice for All.

“I’ve been blessed to see the power that compassionate and informed dialogue has to open and change the hearts of college students across the country,” she said. “Man has a deep desire to know and be known. Only after we dignify the other person by listening to them and hearing their position, can we be effective in sharing the truth about abortion and ultimately the truth about Jesus Christ, and his plan for our salvation.”

Pro-life work is nothing new to Dufresne; her parents have taken her and her siblings to pray in front of abortion clinics since she was very young. That opened her eyes to the reality of abortion, and that knowledge propelled her toward pro-life advocacy in college.

“My worldview has been shaped by working in the pro-life movement as I’ve come to see that it is truly love that wins souls and changes minds and hearts,” she said. “The words of John Paul II echo in my heart and are a reminder that we must truly speak the truth with love. I pray that I can continue to be involved in the pro-life movement throughout my life and that the Lord would continue to bless the efforts and lives of the faithful involved in upholding the dignity and beauty of human life.”

Kiersten Oubre, junior,

St. Edward’s University

From Port Neches, Texas, Kiersten Oubre is a religious and theology studies major with a minor in psychology. Though she’s not yet sure what she wants to do after graduation, she’s considering taking a year off and doing service somewhere in the Northeast or Midwest. Eventually, she wants to get her master’s degree in social work and is still deciding what to specialize in. Her main interests are mental health and politics. She especially likes working with veterans, the homeless and individuals with mental and physical illnesses and disabilities.

Oubre has been involved in more service projects than she can count in her time at St. Edward’s University. Most of them have been in the local community; however, she’s also participated in the university’s International Immersion Program. In May, she’ll be going for two weeks to Peru with a group of students to work with poverty and education. She’s impressed by how much hands-on experience she’s able to get through the service projects and enjoys working directly with the people they serve — the homeless, elderly, at-risk youth, and an organization called Operation T, a program that gathers T-shirt donations and distributes them to the poor. Oubre is the organization’s executive director.

“Through my involvement in service through St. Edward’s University, I’ve grown so much as a person,” she said. “I’ve developed my own opinions and beliefs on global and local injustices. To say how service experiences ‘helped’ to shape me as a person is an understatement, my service experiences have shaped me completely. They’ve impacted how I view the world, what my future work will consist of, what I write many of my papers on here at school, and my beliefs and opinions.”

Looking to the future, Oubre wants to explore what social workers can do to change or impact what is broken. She sees that there are injustices in the world, but she also sees that there are ways to change them.

“Coming into college I had the mindset that I was going to become a psychologist and make money and have a nice lifestyle and future,” she said. “Through serving I’ve realized that I can’t do that. I need to work alongside the populations that are facing troubles. Through my service experiences, I think I’ve learned that I don’t care about money. I care about making an impact; I care about working for those who aren’t often given a voice.”

Karyn Pieciak, junior,

Catholic University

Karyn Pieciak would like to pursue a career in cardiology nursing. Additionally, she’s interested in disaster relief services so she can assist in disaster preparation and medical first-responder organizations across the world.

Pieciak has participated in four major areas of service at The Catholic University of America: Brookland Outreach, a service group that plans family-friendly events throughout the year; Ronald McDonald Family Room, a place for families to go while their children are in the hospital; SOME (So Others Might Eat), a soup kitchen that serves breakfast and lunch to the disadvantaged; and University Service Days, which organizes university-wide service days for students who are unable to join in the weekly service projects.

Pieciak loves to volunteer and make a difference in the lives of the people around her. She receives a strong sense of satisfaction from seeing other people smile, and doing service fulfills her personal sense of purpose.

It also makes her happy to know that she’s helped to make someone else’s day just a little better.

“I love seeing so many diverse populations coming together to assist in one common goal of making the world a more beautiful, peaceful place,” she said. “Going out into the community and serving others has shown me how small I am in the context of the world but that my small actions can make a difference.”

Service has helped Pieciak to secure her decision about her career choice. It gave her the opportunity to explore her own potential and aptitude for nursing.

“Nursing provides me the opportunity to help people when they are at their most vulnerable state and to make a positive impact in their lives. Community service also encouraged my interest in disaster relief services, helping those who have their lives turned upside down by tragedies completely outside of their control. Volunteering has helped me to know that nursing and helping others is my passion.”

Amy Pollard, sophomore,

St. Martin’s University

Amy Pollard, from Bellingham, Wash., has a goal to study English at the graduate level and then teach.

Twice Pollard has participated in the Portland Service Immersion Program, during which students are taken for an overnight to Old Town Portland or inner city Tacoma to help serve and form relationships with the needy. The program is so popular that it has grown from one to two times to four to five times per semester and once over the summer. She’s also helped with class service projects for first-year students as part of the Incipio Orientation and volunteered at the local Salvation Army soup kitchen. This summer, she will go to Tanzania to serve the underprivileged there.

St Edwards

These projects, especially the Portland one, alerted Pollard to the pressing need for fighting poverty. It made her realize that it’s easy to be complacent and forget that there are people right in our own cities who may not have food or shelter for the night.

The project challenged her to growing awareness, respect and compassion for people in need. During the trip, the students not only gave food to the homeless, but also they shared food with them.

Her past volunteering did not prepare Pollard for being exposed to so much poverty in one small, densely-populated area. It was one thing to serve the guests, but another to take her fork and assigned table number like everyone else and join in the meal. She was shocked by walking down the street and seeing men, women and sometimes even children camped out on the sidewalks.

“The trip allowed me to connect on a personal level with the homeless and to see firsthand the challenges they faced, as well as their amazing resilience,” she said. “I had many conversations with the people I met, ranging from guitar and classic rock to Powell’s books and the hot, muggy weather. These simple interactions made me realize that we had more in common than I once thought.”

It was her local service that nudged Pollard toward international service. When she goes to Tanzania, she’ll spend a month teaching English at the school of St. Agnes Monastery in Chipole, help out in the orphanage and do whatever else is needed.

“Through my service work on the Portland trip and elsewhere at St. Martin’s University, I’ve come to believe that service to others is essential to a meaningful life,” she said. “As an aspiring teacher, I hope to use my passion for service to challenge and inspire students to work toward positive change in their community. My experience at St. Martin’s University has inspired me to cultivate a life of service.”

Marge Fenelon writes from Wisconsin.

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