Animated by its Catholic mission and values, the University of Notre Dame encourages and celebrates service as a fundamental aspect of a holistic education, inspiring in students a sense of solidarity with the global community and a genuine concern for the common good.
To that end, the University offers a variety of service-learning programs, such as NDBridge and the Higgins Labor Program, that combine academics and ethics. It also partners with major nonprofit organizations to promote volunteer service. And it supports the work of student-led groups, such as Circle K International, the Notre Dame Knights of Columbus and Notre Dame student government, that make service part of their mission.
The results speak for themselves.
More than 80 percent of Notre Dame students participate in service or service learning before they graduate. About 7 percent of each graduating class spends a year or more in volunteer service. And 800-plus Notre Dame graduates have served in the Peace Corps.
By comparison, only about a quarter of young people volunteer overall in the U.S., according to government data.
What does this commitment to service look like in practice? Read on to find out.
Turning over a new leaf in the community
Junior Hannah Long, a computer engineering major from suburban St. Louis, is co-president of Circle K International at Notre Dame, which provides students with service, leadership and fellowship opportunities as part of the Kiwanis family of service organizations.
Each fall, the group partners with the Notre Dame Robinson Community Learning Center (RCLC), as well as South Bend Venues Parks and Arts, to rake leaves for elderly and homebound residents in the Northeast Neighborhood, directly south of campus, as part of Turning Over a New Leaf.
The group raked leaves for about 40 residents this year, happily braving cold temperatures and lake effect snow to complete the task alongside dozens of volunteers — mostly students and fellow Kiwanis members — from Notre Dame and the surrounding community.
“Service was one of the primary reasons I chose to attend Notre Dame,” said Long, who previously served as project chair and treasurer with Circle K. “Helping others has been a lifelong thing for me. It provides a real sense of community.”
For Lu Ella Webster, adult program manager at the RCLC and a lifelong resident of the Northeast Neighborhood, the event is a welcome reminder of the thriving relationship between Notre Dame and the surrounding community, particularly since the founding of the Robinson Center in 2001.
“It’s really, really great that they do this,” Webster said of the students, “because for so many years we did not have that relationship with the students and the University. So it’s great that that relationship is there with the students and with the Robinson Center and with the neighborhood, because the neighborhood really appreciates this.”
In addition to raking leaves, Circle K also partners with Knott Hall each year to make fleece blankets for childhood cancer patients in the South Bend area.
Growing ‘closer to God’ through service
Luis Longorio, a sophomore majoring in neuroscience and behavior from Rio Rico, Arizona, spent last summer working with rising seventh-graders in Tucson, as part of a summer service learning program through the Center for Social Concerns.
The summer enrichment camp is designed to strengthen middle school students’ learning, spiritual character and creativity — and ultimately, increase the number of students who enroll in rigorous coursework in high school that will prepare them for success in college.
Part of a larger commitment by Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) to Catholic school students in these historically underserved communities, the ACE PATH program includes college visits, service projects and team-building activities.
Over the summer, Longorio and his fellow Notre Dame students developed lesson plans and taught classes in reading, writing, math and science, as well as coordinated games, skits and songs with the 70 middle schoolers in the program. But some of the most memorable moments, he said, were his conversations on faith with his peers and the students they led.
“This experience really helped me grow as both a student and an individual who wants to do service and to grow closer to God,” Longorio said. “I got to work with a lot of really inspirational people from Notre Dame and just some really great kids. I think the most beautiful part of service is the people you meet through it.”
Longorio plans to pursue a career in medicine, but said the program has also inspired him to look at other ways he can give back.
“It really changed my perspective on what I can do for others,” he said. “I’m now considering taking a gap year or two before med school to do the ACE Teaching Fellows program and to work with a community that needs help.”
Notre Dame athletes make big impact with local youth
Don’t be concerned if you hear someone calling Kevin Lynch “Jimmy Johns” or if Aidan McIntyre smells like fruity cereal. It’s all a special part of their student-athlete experience at Notre Dame.
McIntyre, a senior on the Notre Dame rowing squad, and Lynch, a senior midfielder for the Fighting Irish men’s lacrosse team, co-lead the Student-Athlete Advisory Council community service initiative, which places them in at the forefront of community service projects involving members of the University’s athletics teams.
The two work with Athletic Department staff to coordinate various community service projects for the 26 Fighting Irish varsity teams. And that’s no small task on top of their already full schedules in the classroom and with their teams. During the 2021-22 academic year, student-athletes recorded more than 3,700 hours of service in the South Bend community.
McIntyre and Lynch’s efforts include sending weekly emails to student-athletes soliciting volunteers to assist with food drives, clothing drives, tutoring, reading sessions or many of the other opportunities that are available. They also help to transport volunteers to locations around the community and work with Athletic Department staff on logistics for new and recurring community service projects.
“Aidan and Kevin are incredible,” Kathryn Coneys Glick, associate director of the GLD Center in Athletics, said. “They’re so in-tune with the needs of, and how best Notre Dame Athletics can serve, our community. They lead the charge in communicating with our student-athletes, offering weekly emails of volunteer opportunities and suggestions of how individuals and teams can get involved. They have a passion for service and it shows in the way the community embraces their efforts.”
Lynch lights up when he talks of his favorite service project. At Darden Elementary School in South Bend, he helps to organize his fellow student-athletes as weekly readers to various classes, and that’s where he was dubbed with the nickname “Jimmy Johns” after losing a friendly competition of rock, paper, scissors with a Darden student.
“If I’m walking down the hallway, some students will call me Kevin and others say, ‘Hi Jimmy Johns!’” Lynch explained with a smile.
He is currently reading the book “Holes” to a class of fifth-grade students. “They love it! We are about 20 chapters into the book and I stop after each chapter to quiz them. They are eager to answer my questions and are really good listeners. It’s definitely my favorite volunteer activity,” the finance and economics double major said, while admitting to being leery of engaging in any future friendly competitions with his Darden students.
Meanwhile, at the Lafayette Head Start in South Bend, McIntyre, a business analytics major, volunteers weekly as a teacher’s aide, assisting in classrooms with preschool-aged children. That’s where her work may entail project-based learning activities such as counting or grouping items into colors, like making a rainbow with fruity cereal pieces.
“I like to help the teachers calm down the children and be there to help with fun activities,” she said.
Both credit their families for instilling in them a love for community service and inspiring young people, but it was something that Rev. Pete McCormick, C.S.C., assistant vice president for Campus Ministry, said in a presentation that really moved McIntyre to get so involved.
“Father Pete was telling us about the values of the Holy Cross Congregation and how we could have a bigger impact through service as Notre Dame students,” she said. “I really took that to heart and knew I wanted to make an impact on children’s lives.”
Both McIntyre and Lynch said they strive to be good role models for the children they connect with during community service programs.
“We like to encourage the students to strive for a college education. We want to give them a goal to strive toward,” she said.
Lynch agreed and added: “We believe in them and what they can accomplish in their futures. We want a full college experience for them just like we are blessed to have.”