Majoring in service Learning by helping: Loyola College students put a high priority on voluntarism, but some admit the social problems they face can be frustrating.


Loyola College students, among the most active college volunteers in the Baltimore area, talk of being fulfilled by community service but also confess to frustrations in facing social problems.

Since 1992, 60 per cent of Loyola College's undergraduates have done some community service work, many of them at least five hours a week, a record more extensive than on most campuses.

The volunteer performance is so strong that some students are drawn to Loyola specifically for its service reputation rather than its academic program, President Harold E. Ridley, S.J., said.

The volunteers are what the Rev. Tim B. Brown, S.J., calls "reflective practitioners," which involves serving others, listening and then talking and writing about their experiences -- an old Jesuit tradition.

While students volunteer at all colleges, Loyola is distinguished by this "eloquentia perfecta" or eloquent communicating -- educating the whole person, by thinking about and sharing experiences, said Daniel R. Maier, Student Government Association president.

An example of this could be found last week in Father Brown's class on "Children and The Law." The students indicated they deeply felt the rewards of their volunteer projects, but some also expressed frustrations.

Jeff Miller, senior class president, said he liked the satisfaction of tutoring inner-city children. Yet, he said, "You have goals in your head, but your goals aren't supported. I tend to be the kids' father, their mother, their teacher. It's frustrating to see kids being deprived of family support."

Headed for a career of social work, Kate Abell has learned to be somewhat detached. "You can't give endlessly, you can't help everyone," she said. "People want more and more. You have to have something left for yourself. I don't think it's selfish to find the line between sympathy and detachment."

Melinda Sayre works in soup kitchens and tutors children, the type of social service she started doing in high school and will continue after college as a social worker. Yet she realized that more than one person is needed to make inroads.

"You see how much more work is needed, how problems are so much worse," she said. "It's very upsetting."

Sarah Wicklein, a veteran of work with the homeless -- though wary of burnout -- said she was frustrated at "other peoples' apathy," including politicians who spend big money on new football stadiums "when so many other things are needed."

Her football comment led to a straw poll of the students on Maryland spending millions on two new football stadiums. The vote was 16-1 against the stadiums and represented the students' belief that there were more substantive causes, such as helping the needy.

Spirited class

The deck was probably stacked against football in this spirited class. Mostly women, the students said they took the course because in addressing children's rights, it touched their interest in community service or public service careers.

Last year, Loyola's volunteer record included 800 students working in service tied to Loyola courses. Overall, students, faculty and staff logged 49,000 hours of Loyola service with 145 community agencies.

This effort was the most extensive among the 12 Baltimore colleges in the Higher Education Consortium, said Dr. John S. Martello, executive director of the Shriver Center at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, where service is also encouraged.

Dr. Martello, who works to improve the commitment of the 12 colleges to community service, said Loyola's record is based on the school's Jesuit tradition of service going back to founder St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556).

Grant helps out

A grant from the Corporation for National Service is aimed at improving the colleges' internal service structure, designing or modifying courses to include voluntarism and setting up a computerized network of regional service opportunities.

"We're trying to build social consciousness in the public sector," Dr. Martello said. "The Jesuit schools are less of a challenge culturally because of their history."

Father Brown is co-director with Erin Swezey of Loyola's Center for Values and Service. The center directs the school's community service program.

In an interview on the North Charles Street campus, Father Brown praised student volunteers, but said community service requires constant renewing. Interests fluctuate, people become too comfortable, he said. And, "one problem is they leave," he laughed.

Father Brown said "the little secrets" of the program are:

* Partnerships in tutoring and teaching, and working with other Baltimore organizations: St. Frances Academy and St. Ignatius Academy, Beans and Bread soup kitchen, The Learning Bank and Choice. The program also helps troubled youth.

* A summer program of up to 20 students doing 20 hours weekly service

* Sixteen student coordinators managing the various projects.

* "Service learning" in which professors, such as those teaching theology and philosophy, stress community service in courses.

Live in Mexican town

Students "immerse" themselves by living with others to better understand them. For example, they spend 10 days in a Mexican town and their spring breaks in Appalachia. In Baltimore, they live during some weekends on the second floor of the Beans and Bread building in Fells Point.

As a teacher of Victorian novels, President Ridley in the past has connected the urban underside in Dickens novels with volunteering in the city. To him, the Loyola students' spirit of service is refreshing: "When I see students go off to Mexico or to Beans and Bread, it helps me get out of bed in the morning."

"If you look at these 18- to-22-year-olds", Father Ridley said, "they are an extremely privileged minority. They live in the most wealthy and powerful country. The rest of the world doesn't live this way, in this wasteful and self-satisfied society."

He said he hopes the service "enables a significant number of them to avoid the perils of mindless self-interest."

'The learning business'

Father Brown also spoke as a teacher. "People think this community service is a charity," he said. "We are not in the charity business. We're in the learning business. They are learning how things work, how things are neglected. They don't just do it and walk away, they are thinking about their service."

Can anyone make a difference? "I've seen us make a difference," said the Jesuit who has helped direct Loyola's community improvement project in the Pen Lucy area of Northeast Baltimore. He also just returned from his ninth session of helping construct buildings in Mexico, working with 20 Loyola students for 10 days in Tecate near Tijuana.

"We've seen Mexican children in schools made of a few two-by-fours. In one day, we mixed and poured 30 tons of concrete. Others, of course, assisted this town. The children are now in four school buildings of reinforced concrete.

That, he said with a tight smile, "is a concrete experience."

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