Service project encourage students to give back to community

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The St. Edward’s University S.E.R.V.E. project – which stands for St. Edward’s, Reflect, Volunteer, Engage – is a series of one-day service projects for freshmen and transfer students that want to spend time with peers and give back to the community. Students can sign up for as many service projects as they want throughout the semester and can choose between different sites to volunteer at.

S.E.R.V.E. one-day service projects started in 2008 and are run by the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at St. Edward’s. The OCE had been hosting different service projects previously, but in 2012 the program was refurbished.

“The program seeks to bring together the community and university in order to tackle important issues affecting society through engaging service opportunities,” S.E.R.V.E. Coordinator Cecilia Navarrette said.

The majority of the projects involve yard work, but Navarrette explained that students are still able to interact with people.

“Though most of the service we do entails pulling weeds or spreading mulch, we also get to interact with other student participants from universities such as UT, teachers, parents and children,” Navarrette said. 

One past project Navarrette discussed was the beautification of an elementary school. Participants spent their time planting flowers and sweeping around the school.

“They got to talk to parents who had taken time on their Saturday morning to beautify the school and children who were running around,” she said. “For future projects, we would like to continue to have the participants be able to interact with people in the community while helping them.”

The first S.E.R.V.E. one-day service project for this semester was on Sept. 27, where 78 students participated and volunteered throughout the Austin community. There are five more projects left for this school year.

The next project is on Oct. 25, with subsequent dates planned for Nov. 22, Feb. 28 and March 28. All of the projects are on Saturdays and last from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Breakfast and lunch are provided for free.

Freshman Natalie Gomez participated in the project, where she volunteered at the River City Youth Foundation in the Dove Springs community. She said that she isn’t a big outdoor person, but she loved volunteering.

“A group of kids that the River City Youth Foundation serves volunteered along with us, and it was really fun to interact with them,” Gomez said. “They were so excited and willing to give back to their own community and it was so evident just how much the place meant to them.”

The projects also include an optional reflection at the end of the day.

“It is a great way to debrief at the end of the day and think about the ways that the service we do for each project relates to our humanity, faith and the impact we have on the communities we serve,” Navarrette said. “More importantly, reflection allows students to share an insight or two about their individual experience; we hope that this dialogue would light a spark that will incite a greater push for social change — especially outside of these projects.”

The reflection helps participants discuss social issues that affect society. Freshman Jo Capetillo participated in the first project this year and mentioned that he felt accomplished at the end of the day.

“I liked the feeling after we finished the project. I had the feeling of accomplishment and I just felt good knowing we made a difference in a community,” Capetillo said.

S.E.R.V.E. one-day service projects continue to grow each year. The program is constantly reaching out to various communities in an attempt to get students more involved.

Navarrette also talked about how students are encouraged to keep being involved with the service projects as their college careers go on.

“Many students, including myself, become involved in doing these service projects and continue to do so throughout their college career,” (Who?) said.

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