Helping Wabash Valley voices be heard -- one letter at a time

April 27th, 2015 | SMWC

Capitol Hill
SMWC students on Capitol Hill after lobbying at the offices of Senator Donnelly and Senator Coats. The Capitol Building is currently under construction.

“The world won't become a better place unless people do something. There are many opportunities out there to have your voice heard and aspire higher.” These are the words of a freshman at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC). Nichole Willey is a freshman who already understands the value of service learning – a freshman who participated in the alternative spring break trip.

Fourteen SMWC students and staff traveled to Washington, D.C., during spring break to volunteer at various locations and hand-deliver letters to Indiana senators.

The letters – an initiative of the Terre Haute chapter of Bread for the World, a not-for-profit based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to ending hunger in the U.S. by 2030 and reducing hunger worldwide – urge Congress to continue to support childhood nutrition programs, such as the national school lunch and breakfast programs. SMWC students lobbied at Capitol Hill and met with Legislative Correspondents of Senators Joe Donnelly and Dan Coats and Representative Larry Bucshon to discuss the funding of the child nutrition programs.

“When we visited Capitol Hill and advocated for the Childhood Nutrition Act, each student articulated her opinion so freely and clearly,” states Cathleen Flynn, campus admission counselor and graduate of The Woods. “I felt proud to be an alumni! I chose to serve as a chaperone for this year’s alternative spring break trip because the experience was transformative for me as a student, and I wanted to help guide the experiences of current students.”

A Wider Circle
SMWC students sorting goods at A Wider Circle, an organization that pulls people out of poverty and supports them with goods, in Silver Spring, Maryland.

In addition to their lobbying efforts, students volunteered at So Others Might Eat (SOME), St. Matthew’s Cathedral Soup Kitchen, Catholic Charities Refugee Center and A Wider Circle. At SOME, they served in a soup kitchen and helped organize a clothing warehouse. Students also served a hot breakfast at St. Matthew’s Cathedral Soup Kitchen and helped organize the warehouse at A Wider Circle. 

“This trip was important because the students experienced poverty and broke their own stereotypes of the homeless and poor. The students received a new appreciation for human dignity and put faces to statistics – allowing compassion to influence their decisions and actions,” states SMWC Campus Minister Andrea Beyke. “They saw that serving others can be a way of life, not just something you do on the weekends or during spring break.”

Both SOME and A Wider Circle are large organizations that help pull people out of poverty. Instead of acting only as a charity, they give on-site job training, offer medical assistance, and provide advice on resume-building and interview skills.  Students helped refugees at Catholic Charities by reviewing resumes with them and doing mock-interviews; they gave feedback and connected with the various refugees from many different countries.

SMWC students visited the statue of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, the College's foundress, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

“I really enjoyed spending time with the new friends I made while volunteering at the organization SOME. These volunteers spend time at this organization throughout the week on a regular basis, and the best part of the trip for me was helping them out,” states SMWC freshman, Nichole Willey, of Folsom, Calif. “I think that this experience was important because I felt humble to others and learned compassion.”

Service learning is an integral element of the educational experience at SMWC. Students are encouraged to participate in service learning projects through course work, extracurricular activities and experiences like the alternative spring break trip.

“Being a Woods student means taking risks and being vulnerable, daring to see the struggles of our time, and using one’s strengths to promote dignity for all living things,” states Flynn.

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