Service-learning broadens students' horizons

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Ala., gives accounting students training and experience in preparing income taxes for low-income people.

Rickie Lee, 21, of Bayou La Batre, Ala., said that the program also exemplifies the college’s Jesuit tradition of cura personalis, or care for the entire person.

“The program does help deepen one’s faith by embracing the care and help of others,” Lee said. On a practical level, he added, “It focuses on making sure that families get all of the deductions and credits they are eligible for. This really helps the poorer families greatly.”

Beth McGinty, 21, of Olney, Md., is another student volunteering to assist clients who are unable to afford professional income tax services.

“I and the other VITA volunteers can use our skills and knowledge to ensure that they receive the best service, and it’s free,” she said. “It’s been humbling for me, and it has also enriched my faith, as I see that there is a greater purpose for my life. I am fortunate to have the ability to make the world a better place through this program.”

Science

Chemistry students participating in Partners In Science adopt an eighth-grade class in a county that has more than 90 percent minority students and about a 50 percent rate of graduation. The college supplies lab coats and equipment for the laboratory activities, and Spring Hill students provide mentorship and friendship.

“These kids need a little bit of individualized attention,” said Dr. Carolyn Simmons, associate professor of chemistry. “They need someone to give them individual focus, someone to talk to and someone who is interested in finding out what they are capable of doing. It’s more than just teaching them how to use a balance properly. We see these (eighth-grade) students blossom.”

Freshman Paige Guillory, 19, of Baton Rouge, is studying biology/pre-med, so her volunteer work is usually in hospital settings. Going into the middle school pushed her to new challenges, she said, and gave her insight into other ways to serve.

“I paid attention to specific strengths and weaknesses, and I made sure that each student was given the appropriate amount of attention and freedom during the experiments,” she said.

In return, she received “the blessing” of experiencing the students’ knowledge, patience and respect. “This service experience has reminded me that I have been made a worker for God in the world,” Guillory said.

Jen Sonsutto, 19, of Medina, Ohio, is a freshman with a major in chemistry/pre-med. She witnessed the eighth graders responding positively to the fun that the program brings into the science lab, and that encouraged them to recognize their own potential.

“This experience taught me that you should never assume,” she said. “Going into it, I was thinking that these kids were probably not going to grasp anything. After my first day there, I was blown away. They taught me that you should never judge a person by how old they are or where they go to school.”

Design

Janden Richards, associate professor of graphic design, involves her students in research and design projects for nonprofits.

“Community Through Design gives students an opportunity to work with an organization whose primary purpose is the common good,” she said. “Projects serve to heighten students’ sense of civic responsibility as well as challenge them beyond theoretical understanding of design principles and technical skills.”

They have created posters, brochures, logos and other graphics for arts and library outreach programs, environmental projects and fundraising events. They designed an animal shelter’s brochure to promote pet adoption and neutering, promotionals for a community center and educational materials for a botanical center.

Students visited and volunteered on-site before creating brochures for the Service Center of Catholic Social Services. They then focused on highlighting the agency’s call for respect for human dignity, making positive changes, moving toward self-sufficiency and preventing homelessness.

Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller writes from Pennsylvania.

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