Although Bellarmine University is included on the national Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for its volunteer activities in 2014, for the fourth year in a row according to the President’s Update, we are concerned the majority of students check off their service requirements without making a lasting impact on those in need.

The statistic points to a spirit of giving and selfless love that exists among the Bellarmine community members, but our efforts fall short of the mark too often.

Interim Asst. Vice President for Student Affairs/Multicultural Affairs, Patrick Englert, said  blood drives, the Physical Therapy Service-Learning Clinic, the Guatemala trip, alternative Spring Break domestic trips and the Food Recovery Network’s efforts are some of the volunteer activities that have left an impact on our community and others.

These are undeniably positiveforms of outreach, but these efforts involve only small pockets of the student body while every student is required to serve.

Because all the different organizations on campus go out and complete their required volunteer hours, all freshmen complete Knights in Action: Day of Service, and groups of students travel for service opportunities each semester, it becomes easier to see how the President’s Update prides us on an average of “24,000 hours of service work each year.”

Students also show up to our  required volunteer sessions each semester and spend a couple of hours cleaning up or finding out not much work needs to be done.

This year one of the freshman orientation groups went to Bridgehaven Mental Health Services to do some cleaning work.

The students said they were happy to help the people at Bridgehaven, but they felt the tasks might have been left to them because the facility did not want to pay someone else to do them.

Freshman Kyle Rullan connected with some of the men and women at Bridgehaven.

“We heard their stories. It kind of makes you want to do more for them,” Rullan said.

A second group painted the interior of St. Vincent De Paul, a Catholic voluntary organization that serves the poor.

Freshman Jordan Bray said: “With our help the project was completed. I’m not sure if I can say that it will have a lasting impact but it is one less thing that the facility has to worry about.”

Few college students have the time to commit to an intense volunteer schedule along with their class and work schedules.

We applaud Bellarmine in its efforts to instill the value of volunteering in its community members and to provide convenient opportunities for getting involved.

Andrew Schroeder, associate dean of academic advising, said the efforts of the freshman focus classes have had a lasting impact on the surrounding community.

“I think the Louisville community physically sees how serious the Bellarmine community is as a whole about being engaged in important initiatives like [those previously mentioned]. The awareness that 700-plus people from one organization are dispersed throughout the city trying to make an impact is a powerful picture,” Schroeder said.

After five years of required service from freshmen, along with the other groups that volunteer, the community is undoubtedly aware Bellarmine students will be volunteering their time.

However, it seems we should be using our collective volunteer power to create more effective change.

We end up with smiles all around about the “wonderful” efforts of the volunteers as they tidy up an office, rake leaves, weed a garden or play bingo with nursing home residents for an hour.

The real issues each one of the many organizations face often go unnoticed while the volunteers take heartwarming photos with “the sweetest old man you’ve ever seen.”

The volunteers go home, but the deeper issues remain.

Rather than traveling to more locations so we can add their names to a list that we brag about when we share how many hours of volunteerism we have achieved, could we not elect a specific cause for which we would like to dedicate our efforts?

“I often have conversations with students as we wrap up service experiences to discuss the impacts that have been made.  I know the experience has been impactful, when a students acknowledges the ways they learned about someone else, a different community, or had a ‘aha’ moment,” Englert said.

Each volunteer experience should undoubtedly be a learning opportunity for students.

However, if we are all going to volunteer we should be seeing more lasting results.

If the Bellarmine community were to asess one or two specific needs and set goals for our collective volunteer power each year, our communities would benefit much more.

In the spirit of Thomas Merton, social justice will be a part of each Bellarmine student’s experience.

Because volunteerism is built into our time here, we need to reexamine how to organize ourselves so that we are affecting our communities in the best way possible.

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