| Best Buddies Program |
DeSales students have been going above and beyond their expectations, enriching the community, and volunteering for dozens of service programs run through the Department for Social Justice. Altogether, the students at DeSales have contributed more than 21,000 hours of service this past academic year, assuming leadership roles and taking initiative in the Lehigh Valley community no matter where they are originally from.
According to Jaime Gerhart, the director of the Center for Service and Social Justice, the passion and the talents that DeSales students have to offer is powerful and unique.
“Our students come in and bring the non-profits to life,” says Gerhart, “they provide that boost that you just can’t pay someone to do.”
Habitat for Humanity
Among the many service programs run out of DeSales, one that particularly stands out is the tutoring program in which 40 students dedicate four days a week to tutoring middle school students. Through programs like el Sistema, the Boys and Girls Club of Bethlehem, and the Century HOPE tutoring program, DeSales students consistently volunteer their free time to help educate the youth of the community.
“We are there for them more than just academically, but also to listen to their problems,” says DeSales student and academic tutor Tara Heller ’16, “We're not parents or teachers, so they tell us things that they are afraid to tell others, like about a bully that is bothering them.”
Though the children in the tutoring program clearly benefit from the service of DeSales students, the experience is definitely a two-way street.
“Personally, I find that it really motivates me to succeed,” adds Heller, “I want to set the best example that I can for the kids, so I always try my best academically to show them that hard work pays off.”
Another greatly successful service program is Best Buddies. There are more than 70 DeSales students who participate in this program, exploring, developing, and maintaining friendships with mentally disabled adults. The program provides those involved with experiences they may never otherwise have, and yields the most enthusiastic DeSales student volunteers and leaders.
“The program is all about friendship. Students communicate with their assigned ‘buddies’ at least once a week and meet for activities and events every month,” says Gerhart, “As far as service clubs go, the student-run Best Buddies program is a shining example of the best that we have to offer.”
Jessica Hillegass ’15, a DeSales student and officer in the Best Buddies program, can attest to the spirit her colleagues invest into their service.
“The enthusiasm that the other members of Best Buddies have is immense,” says Hillegass. “We work really hard to pair college buddies with the best community buddy based on similar interests.”
In the last few years, student involvement in service programs has increased overall. According to Gerhart, this may have something to do with the implementation of service-oriented projects into the Character U program. “It really does help engage our new students,” she says, “a lot of times they feel like they are forced into it at first, but once they have done it they are always glad they did.”
Community outreach is a huge part of the DeSales way of life, and thanks to the students that volunteer, the service culture is flourishing and creating a win-win relationship between the volunteers and the community they work with. The partnerships developed through service programs are long lasting sources of inspiration and self-discovery to the students who participate.
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