By Ryan Peters | The Observer: University of Notre Dame
Oct. 7, 2020
Despite COVID-19 limiting the availability of in-person service opportunities for the Summer Service Learning Program , students in SSLP will be able to participate in service projects in their local communities for summer 2021.
SSLP participants serve for eight weeks at a vetted non-profit organization. The program offers 24 different site categories, including parishes, hospital clinics and community-based organizations across the country. Students who participate completely in SSLP receive academic credit.
Students who serve are usually able to either live at their personal homes, live on the site of their service program or live with a Notre Dame Alumni Club host family. This summer, SSLP is not allowing students to stay with host families and will require students in the program to serve on sites within four hours of their local community. Students’ local communities can be their permanent residence or anywhere that they have access to secure housing.
SSLP assistant director Emily Garvey said the requirement to serve on a site near a local community is a safety precaution for students in case the service project gets shut down due to health concerns.
SSLP offers 24 different site categories. This year, students are required to live within four hours of the site.
“They will serve there with the condition that they have a safe community to get to within four hours so that if everything shuts down they are four hours away from a safe, local community without having to take mass transit,” Garvey said.
Although students are not able to stay with host families, Garvey said there are still around 120 service opportunities offered by SSLP. All sites are prepared for the student to serve both in person and virtually in the event the University shuts down in-person service.
Last summer, all students in SSLP served virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sophomore Nate Cieplik worked for the St. Joseph County chapter of Faith in Indiana, a faith-based advocacy group for social justice. Despite not being able to serve in-person, Cieplik said he enjoyed his experience and recommends students to apply before this year’s Oct. 11 application deadline.
“It’s really fulfilling. I would definitely recommend that students get involved. [Service] is an important part of being a good citizen,” Cieplik said.
Sophomore Olivia Althoff served for Project Renewal, an after-school care program for children in Davenport, Iowa. Althoff said SSLP provided her with a valuable opportunity to serve and connect with others.
“I learned that you can serve people in various ways. It’s a great learning experience [and] a great way to make a little difference in this world,” Althoff said. “It was a really fun experience, and I learned a lot about virtual communication and trying to build relationships through the internet.”
The eight-week program can be counted towards Theology credit.
Students in SSLP receive a $500 stipend and a $2,500 academic scholarship applied to their fall tuition statement. The program requires that students perform at least 35 hours of service per week and complete weekly reading, record journal entries and submit a capstone project in the fall.
Garvey, who has been involved with SSLP for 11 years, said the program offers students an opportunity to give back and develop personal and professional skills.
“One of the things that … students have said to me is that it gives them so many professional and personal skills. It helps them improve their confidence, their sense of building community [and] their intention for what they want to do in their academic career and in their postgraduate career,” Garvey said.
Even though the program is based in Catholic Social Thought, Garvey said students of all backgrounds are encouraged to participate.
“Students are learning about cultivating the common good, solidarity, respect for human dignity, care for creation, so it doesn’t matter if they come from a Catholic perspective or non-Catholic or atheist perspective,” she said. “Anyone can participate and learn how to contribute.”