February 18, 2014

MISSION MATTERS: The Mission Series, Part III

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I'm a numbers person, I'll admit — and in the case of talking about the impact Saint Louis University has on the greater community, numbers present a very powerful picture. Of course, the more impressive number to highlight is that during the 2012-2013 academic year, our students, faculty and staff contributed nearly 1.5 million hours of service to the community. You guys — that's crazy! For a mid-sized, private research school, that seems almost impossible. Sometimes I wonder when our students sleep or go to class (some of you who are professors may be wondering the same thing).

The best part though, is that of these 1.5 million hours, there is such variety in how we impact the community. Sometimes it's in a very big, brief and splashy way, such as a record 3,700 of you volunteering for our annual Make A Difference Day. Sometimes, it's in a much smaller, but no less impactful way, such as one of our students spending a few hours each week as a mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters, working with a child in need of support.

Perhaps it's on a grand academic scale, such as our Nutrition and Dietetics Department receiving a large grant to teach healthy eating habits to inner-city youth and their families. Or maybe it's one of the more than 100 faculty members who incorporate service-learning into the classroom each semester, bringing their students to a community organization each week to serve. From our healthcare, to our teaching, to our research — we do such an amazing job of recognizing our place as a university in the larger community and how we can make our work benefit those around us.

And of course, our students are the driving force behind this. Each year, 80 percent of our students engage in community service at least once. This is nearly three time the national rate for college students, as measured by the Corporation for National and Community Service in 2010. But the best part is, half of these students don't just do it once or twice a year, but once or twice a month, once or twice a week or even every day. These students are making service not just an add-on or something they do in their spare time, but an integral part of their experience here at Saint Louis University. They are forming relationships with the people that they serve and are being impacted in ways they never could otherwise.

This shows us that service is important, valuable work, but so too is solidarity. Visiting with people who we work with, taking time to hear them and their stories. And in today's busy, gotta-get-to-the-next-appointment world, this solidarity is often lost. But we cannot forget that our ministry here at Saint Louis University needs to not just be a ministry of work, but of presence. Not just of accomplishments, but relationships. Not just service, but solidarity.

And in this spirit of solidarity, we must remember too that not only do we have an impact on our community, but our community also has an impact on us. Each year, our office asks students to spend some time reflecting on service experiences of the past year and on how they have impacted their relationship with the community, how they connected their service to larger issues of social justice, the impact of their service on their career or vocational path, and how their faith or spirituality was influenced. I wish I could write them all, but time doesn't allow, so let me just share this passage from a student who volunteered at Places For People, a transitional housing program for people who are homeless and struggling with mental illness located just down the street from us on Lindell:

My service was a major component in switching my major to social work. I have grown up in a culture that encourages giving one's whole self for the good of another, and it is an attitude I have tried to continue to cultivate throughout my college career. The populations I have come to know at Places For People endure injustices that are difficult to process at times, but I believe it is the strength of my faith that pushes me forward to see the beauty in each person, the blessing in every situation and the opportunity for change in our social systems.

And that, THAT is the impact service has on our students. It is vital that we recognize while we have much to give to our community in terms of impact, we have much to gain. No matter where you are in our institution, from facilities to finances, from the classroom to the operating room — you all play an important role in helping SLU achieve our mission of service to humanity.

— Bobby Wassel, Assistant Director
Center for Service and Community Engagement

Higher purpose. Greater good.
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