Although summer is often associated with vacations, over 170 Sacred Heart students from around the United States are packing their bags to serve people in various poor, marginalized communities as part of the Network Summer Projects, community service programs administered by the Network of the Sacred Heart Schools.
Freshman Sophia Favia has little experience in teaching English and visiting teens in protective custody, but she plans to participate in Serving Immigrant Families, a project in Houston focused on helping immigrants displaced by hurricanes, to gain first hand experience in helping others outside her local community.
“I’m looking forward to working with other Sacred Heart girls, and I hope to help kids that are troubled by relieving them of stress and making them feel cared for,” said Favia.
The Network administers these projects every summer and chooses participants from the Sacred Heart faculty and students who submit applications in the winter prior.
“The service projects give students the opportunity to serve outside of school and learn the Goals and Criteria,” said Sister Carol Haggarty, RSCJ, who is Assistant Executive Director of the Network of Sacred Heart Schools. “The experience students gain from these projects might motivate them to influence others in a larger community.”
Theology teacher Julia Arce participated in a service project last summer at Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. As a faculty volunteer, she helped lead student volunteers in various activities including cleaning barns, taking care of farm animals, milking cows and tending the farm’s organic gardens.
“The farm was a place to develop our emotional life in relation to animals and the world,” said Arce. “I have learned the way farmers value every single component on the farm and believe everything on the farm has utility because it becomes part of the earth. Milk becomes cheese and vegetables in the garden become our meal.”
Volunteers wake up at 6 a.m. to feed cows and tend to gardens according to Sister Georgie Blaeser, RSCJ. They also participate in seminars, interact with the local inner city youth and discuss environmental issues.
“We link people who have been disconnected from the real roots of our life,” said Blaeser, who is project coordinator at the farm. “When students come here and experience it, they make different choices in their own lives. Some become vegetarians, some are very committed to environmental issues and some become veterinarians.”
In addition to changing habits, activities at the farm share a common focus on community according to Blaeser.
“Working together and helping each other with these activities help build community easily,” said Blaeser. “Cheesemakers rely on the farmer and the farmer depends on the animal’s well-being, and educators respond to the needs of the farm and the students. Creating community becomes a purpose, and it becomes connected to everything.”
Freshman Quinn Reno plans to participate in the We Serve All Brands service project in Omaha, Neb., which concentrates on serving disabled children and teaching volunteers about careers in related health fields and early childhood education.
“I want to be exposed to kids with different cases [of illness] because I want to comfort and help kids as a career,” said Reno. “I want to make them realize that there are people out there who care and I hope to learn more about their stories and how their lives are different from ours.”
Other Network service projects include Juvenile Justice in Chicago and Helping with Hands and Hearts in Bridgeport, Conn. More information is at http://sofie.org.
“The summer network project [at Sprout Creek Farm] is hard and not just easy fun times, but it’s really worth it because it changes the perception of other people and the environment,” said Arce. “It humbles and inspires you to solve problems, think differently, and get out of the everyday world.”