The holiday season has ended, Martin Luther King day has passed, and designated days to give back seem few and far between until DePaul’s Vincentian Service Day in May. Through a wide variety of volunteer and service learning opportunities, DePaul students uphold Vincentian values year round.
At the core of DePaul’s volunteer community are the Vincentian Community Service Office and the Irwin W. Steans Center, where a vision of students who have opportunities available to them to help communities in need has been brought to life. With a focus on social justice and active reflection after each opportunity, students have seen tremendous progression as individuals and leaders.
Chris Lamprecht, a DePaul senior, led a service immersion trip this past winter break along with several other students to Denver. Here, the students were able to engage with the local community and truly live out DePaul’s mission of service and justice.
“These service immersion opportunities allowed me to go out into the community and assist in some way,” Lamprecht said. “Through this direct service I was able to gain a better understanding of the issues that I am studying to hopefully change one day.”
Not only are long lasting relationships developed throughout these trips, but there is also a mutual benefit for all parties involved that stretches far past the time spent in each location. Howard Rosing, Executive Director of the Steans Center and noted expert in the field of community service, explained how service learning encompasses much more than just what goes on in the classroom and in the communities.
“Looking at the challenges faced by people outside one’s everyday experience broadens their understanding of the world, but also allows them to reflect on their own community and to understand how important everyone’s role is in addressing challenges faced by our neighbors and those with whom we share identities and common challenges in life,” Rosing said.
Among the many volunteer programs at DePaul, the Service Days program, operated out of the Vincentian Community Service Office and coordinated by Jacqueline Laurencelle, “Works with various academic and student affairs divisions’ offices to match them with local community partners to create meaningful, mutually beneficial service experiences.”
Within the Service Days program there are three major days that students are encouraged to partake in to get a taste of volunteering and service learning. New Student Service Day, Day with Vincent and Vincentian Service Day are among the three that have developed into beloved traditions at DePaul.
“These service days are an integral part of the Vincentian values DePaul espouses because they invite DePaulians to go and serve communities in need and to come to know our community partners as co-educators,” Laurencelle said. “They also offer an opportunity for students, faculty and staff within DePaul to build a community with one another around a common service project.”
Students and DePaul affiliates alike are exposed to the potential of experiencing a tremendous amount of personal and communal growth throughout these opportunities. Rosing explained how, through these programs, “There can be a deep impact on the individual from being positioned to serve others with the perspective that you are also expected to learn from them.”
Lamprecht and his team of students were no exception as he reflected on the impact that service learning and volunteering had on himself and his fellow volunteers.
“Volunteering has been a pathway for building lasting relationships, contributing to a community’s growth and development, and for my own personal growth,” Lamprecht said. “I feel like volunteering has helped me gain a stronger personal identity and has allowed me to discover what I am most passionate about.”
Although on the surface volunteering may appear as something that requires students to bring a variety of different assets to the table, the only requirement is one’s desire to become involved and a commitment to reflection.
“We have a saying in the office that says, ‘Service without reflection is just work.’ So our philosophy of service is rooted in the idea that to serve another is to be changed by the encounter and to learn from the experience,” Laurencelle said. “The only way we can know serving another has changed us on a deeper level is if we reflect, both individually and with others about the experience. “
A true DePaul education would not be obtained without any experience in volunteering and service learning. As Rosing said, “Community engagement is core to DePaul’s mission.” The art of listening and reflecting are among the core values that DePaul seeks to relay to its students.
“DePaul approaches communities with a great deal of humility. We understand that we are going to make mistakes, but we also know that it is important to remain at the table and most importantly to listen to our partners and to hear their concerns and respond,” Rosing said.
“Alum who were deeply engaged in service while at DePaul are far better critical decision makers. They know how to take the views and values of others who have less power into consideration when they become leaders in organizations and companies. They become true leaders in that sense.”
The appeal for service learning and volunteering stretches far and wide, and while the skills learned during service will undoubtedly pay off in the long run when applying for jobs and trying to market oneself to future employers, it’s the long lasting relationships and awareness that make all the difference.
“It’s great that these experiences have granted me valuable professional skills, but that’s sort of just the icing on the cake,” Lamprecht said.