[Fresh] Service learning at Villanvoa

john immerwahr (john.immerwahr@villanova.edu)
Fri, 03 Nov 2006 15:08:20 -0500

Today we are interviewing Ms. Saramarie Bittmann, Associate Director of
Campus Ministry. She is closely involved with some of Villanova’s many
service learning programs.

Fresh@News: Do you think first year students should get involved with
service, or is that something that should come a bit later?
Saramarie Bittmann. I would strongly advise first year students to
explore some of our service opportunities.

F@N: What are some of the advantages of service for first year students?
SM: There are so many positive things about it. The most obvious, of
course, is the growth and personal development that comes from helping
others, especially those who are less fortunate. It is also great for
students to get off campus and gain new experiences. Interestingly, it
is also a wonderful way for students to get more involved with the
Villanova community. Sometimes freshmen students get stuck with a small
group of friends from their hallway, but service work helps them build
relationships with other students as well. They’ll also get to meet and
work with upper class students, who can become mentors and role models
for them.

F@N: Aren’t the students sometimes too busy for something like this?
SM: Despite what the students say, the big problem for freshmen is not
so much lack of time, but lack of organization. Adding productive
activities can help them structure their day and use their time more
efficiently. Most programs only require a 3-4 hour commitment each week.
(There are students, of course, who over-commit as well, so what I am
saying might not be true of everyone).

F@N: What are some of the opportunities for first year students?
SM: Let’s start with the one I am most familiar with, the “Ruibal
Challenge,” which is a program specifically for freshmen.

F@N: Before you tell me about the program, can you explain the name?
SM: The Ruibals are a family who sent their son to Villanova a few years
ago. Things didn’t really click right away for the son in his first
semester or two at Villanova. Then he got involved in some of our
service programs. After that, his experience improved dramatically, and
everything else seemed to fall into place for him. In fact, I understand
that he is now married to another Villanova graduate whom he met through
a service project here at Villanova. The Ruibals were so grateful that
they created an endowment to help provide more service opportunities,
especially for freshmen.

F@N: So what do the students do?
SM: The Ruibal Challenge is an afterschool program at a school in West
Philadelphia. Groups of ten to twelve freshmen go to work with the kids,
tutor them, and do other after school projects. This week a lot of the
groups went there in Halloween costumes. I think some of our students
were just as excited about Halloween as the elementary students. The
website is: http://www.campusministry.villanova.edu/ssj/ruibal/index.htm

F@N: How do they get to these places?
SM: We have a fleet of vans, and upper class student leaders go through
our van-training program and serve as the drivers.

F@N: What are some of the other opportunities?
SM: We have dozens of other programs ranging from Habitat for Humanity
construction projects to working in soup kitchens and shelters.

F@N: How do students find out about the programs?
SM: Students can either go to the Campus Ministry Website at
http://www.campusministry.villanova.edu/ or just drop in the Campus
Ministry Office in the ground floor St. Rita’s Hall. By now, most of the
freshmen who live on campus have met one or more of the Campus Ministry
Interns. The Interns are Campus Ministers who live in the freshman halls
and who also take study in graduate programs at Villanova. The Campus
Ministry Interns can direct students to service projects that might
interest them. There is another popular service program called Rays of
Sunshine, which is administered by Student Life, so students should
explore that program as well. The link is:
http://www.villanova.edu/studentlife/sunshine/

F@N: You’ve talked a lot about the programs run by Campus Ministry. Do
the students have to be Catholic to participate? Are these religious
programs?
SM: Interesting question. If by religious you mean something that
focuses both on helping others and coming to understand one’s own
values, then I can’t think of anything that is more religious than what
we do. In the service projects, however, we don’t talk about whether
people go to church. Students from all faiths participate in our service
projects, as do those who do not share any religious tradition. I
understand you’ll have another interview later where you’ll hear about
some of our other Campus Ministry programs, such as our liturgies, and
faith-sharing groups.

F@N: We also hear a lot about break trips. Can you tell us about that too?
SM: Many of our students really miss their homes, and talk a lot about
their families (and even their pets), and, of course, the families
always want to see more of the students. But, you may find, after a
semester or two that as much as your son or daughter wants to see you,
he or she might also be asking you about going on a service project for
fall, spring, or even Christmas break. In a typical year over 700
students will do one of the break trips. It is a big program here at
Villanova, and there is a lot of interest.

F@N: Where do the trips go?
SM: This year we’ll have groups going to domestic sites in 10 states and
overseas to 8 different countries. Usually the students go in a group of
20 students, with more mature students as student leaders and with a
faculty or staff advisor.

F@N: What do they do when they get there?
SM: We have two main kinds of trips. Many of our trips are to Habitat
for Humanity sites. For example, this year we’ll be sending 190 students
to the Gulf region to work on various projects associated with Hurricane
Katrina. We have international Habitat projects as well, but many of our
international trips are what we call mission trips, where students work
in a range of community based projects. For example, a few years ago I
was the advisor for a mission trip in Mexico. While we were there we
participated in many different activities, such as working at a home for
older people, at a day care center, and at a school. The most memorable
assignment was the day we built a concrete floor for a family who were
living in a one room house with a dirt floor. Since we had to do
everything by hand, from mixing the concrete to carrying it to the site,
it was quite an experience.

F@N: Are these trips expensive?
SM: It depends on the locations. Some of the trips to far off locations
can be quite expensive. Usually, however, the students do some
fundraising to reduce the cost. The air fares to the Gulf region, by
contrast, are extremely low this year, and when we are there we stay at
various churches that have created shelters for volunteers. If it were
up to us, we would ask parents not to say, “Why do you want to go on a
service trip for break?” but instead to ask their sons or daughters,
“Have you thought about doing a break trip?”

F@N: It sounds like the students are doing some wonderful work?
SM: You cannot imagine how dedicated our students are. Usually we have
to tell them to take a break or to stop working for the day. The most
important thing about our work is what the students learn, both about
themselves and the people whom they meet. All of our service projects
focus on reflection and discussion, as well as on service.

F@N: What are some of the impacts on students that you see?
SM: At Villanova, we talk a lot about “transforming hearts and minds,”
and we see a lot of changes in students who do service. The most
dramatic changes, of course, are from the break trips, but we see the
same changes in all of our service projects. Students who have
participated in service leave with a heightened awareness of themselves
and the world around them. Many of our students will continue service
projects after they graduate, and some of our students will decide to
spend a year after college in a service program, such as the Augustinian
Volunteer program (http://www.osavol.org/) before going on to a career
or graduate school.

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