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SLU 200: Student's Hours Mentoring Kids Pushes SLU Service Challenge to 100 Years

by Amelia Flood on 05/10/2018

The hours she spends tutoring kids at Walbridge Elementary School in north St. Louis are what sophomore Jenna Sims looks forward to every week.

Jenna Sims

Sophomore Jenna Sims spends hours each week mentoring children in a St. Louis public school and also contributes service through SLU's chapter of of Alpha Phi Omega. Photo by Danielle Lacey

A volunteer with Saint Louis University’s Overground Railroad to Literacy Project and the University’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega (APO), a service fraternity, Sims recently contributed her service hours to SLU’s bicentennial 200-Years-in-One-Year Service Challenge. Her hours put SLU over 100 years of service contributed toward its 200-year goal.

The psychology and Spanish major discovered the joy of serving others after arriving at SLU last year. It’s become a major part of her education and her personal life.

“I feel like a big hole in my life is filled and I know more about what I want to do with my life,” Sims said. “It’s serving others.”

Sims joined the Overground Railroad on a friend’s recommendation this year. She had previously taken psychology classes led by Bryan Sokol, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and head of the University’s Center for Service and Community Engagement. Those courses, and living in SLU’s Leadership for Social Change Learning Community as a freshman drew her to give back.

“I feel like service is part of being here at SLU and it’s something I look forward to every week,” Sims said.

The Overground Railroad, created by SLU criminologist Norm White, Ph.D., aims to derail St. Louis’s school-to-prison pipeline – a cycle where trouble in school can lead kids to run afoul of the law, ending up in juvenile detention. As part of the project, SLU students like Sims tutor and mentor children in the St. Louis city public schools. The work, Sims explained, goes beyond helping with math problems and reading assignments.

I feel like a big hole in my life is filled and I know more about what I want to do with my life. It's serving others."

Jenna Sims

“It’s not always easy,” Sims said. Kids can ask tough questions about issues like racial inequality, and others need help with little things like someone to listen to a bad day story. “It’s more than just helping them with their homework. It’s building connections with these kids.”

Sims was drawn to the project’s consistent presence in the kids’ lives.

“I’m really seeing how the kids progress,” she explained.

Self-reflection is also a critical piece of the program, one Sims believes is necessary to living out SLU’s mission to serve others.

“I think it’s important not only to do service, but also to reflect on that service,” she said.

Service has become a fixture in Sims’ life, even beyond the hours she spends with her Walbridge kids. She’s an active APO member who recently took part in the organization’s Showers of Service event. Most recently, she spent a time volunteering with APO at a picnic for people with Down syndrome.

She was motivated to contribute her hours to SLU’s service challenge because of the special role service plays in SLU life.

“A lot of places, it probably doesn’t seem reasonable to do 200 years of service in one, but we’re such a service-oriented community, it’s really our mission,” she explained. She also encourages others to give back by joining a group like APO or the Overground Railroad. Joining others, she said, helps make the decision to give back easier – because others are right there alongside you, forging connections and changing the world for the better.

“You can try all different types of things, and you’re not alone,” Sims said.

Want to join the challenge? Log your hours here or download the 200-Years-in-One app.

Founded in 1818, Saint Louis University is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious Catholic institutions. Rooted in Jesuit values and its pioneering history as the first university west of the Mississippi River, SLU offers nearly 13,000 students a rigorous, transformative education of the whole person. At the core of the University’s diverse community of scholars is SLU’s service-focused mission, which challenges and prepares students to make the world a better, more just place.