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By Rachel Hamilton ’12
Hannah Storm Journalism Intern
This month, Notre Dame alumni, subway alumni, parents, and friends across the country will participate in the sixth annual Hesburgh Month of Service. The event asks groups and individuals to donate their hours of service as a birthday gift to Notre Dame president emeritus Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., ’39.
But Notre Dame clubs don’t just serve during a single month. Instead, the annual event is a chance to dedicate their ongoing work to Father Hesburgh’s inspirational life.
The Notre Dame Club of South Jersey is a club built on service, specifically help for the St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Camden, N.J. The club, led by Steve Klug ’79 and Chris Baekstrom, has several different programs with the parish. Besides doing maintenance work to the church itself and providing holiday meal baskets to members of the parish, they also do work at the Francis House, a center for those affected by HIV, and a community garden that provides fresh fruits and vegetables that are difficult to find in the urban community.
Recently, a mentoring program was also started to provide encouragement and support for sixth, seventh, and eighth graders growing up in Camden.
“Doing so much work for the same community, we have really been able to see the impact our club has made over the years and we have built a network of great relationships,” Klug said.
“One of the greatest challenges we face is getting people into Camden. People are nervous. But once they get to St. Anthony’s and realize the difference they can make there, those worries go away,” Baekstrom said.
Since he became president of the Notre Dame Club of South Jersey, Klug has been able to grow the club significantly through community service events. Besides attracting regular volunteers for their service events at St. Anthony’s in May, September, and during the holidays, a Summer Service Learning Program for Notre Dame students has been established.
The club has also reached out to local Catholic high schools that often send students to Notre Dame. Recognizing the requirement of community service to graduate from these schools, Klug and the Club of South Jersey now send one teacher from Bishop Eustace School to the Alumni Association’s Excellence in Teaching Program as a “thank you” to the schools providing high school volunteers for the club’s projects.
This week, in honor of Father Hesburgh, the Notre Dame Club of South Jersey will work on a variety of projects in the church itself and in the community garden. They will begin the day with a Mass and conclude with a lunch for all volunteers.
“We try to combine our community service with other events,” Klug said. “In that way, our volunteers have a more well-rounded experience and we really build a sense of community.”
On the other side of the country in California, the Notre Dame clubs of Orange County and San Jose/Silicon Valley have also created longstanding service projects by serving breakfast to the homeless in their communities.
Since 1987, the Notre Dame Club of Orange County has served weekly breakfast at the Southwest Community Center, including special treats around the holidays. Even in 2009, when the community center burned to the ground, the ND Club of Orange County was there the following Sunday, with tables serving breakfast where the center had stood only days before.
The Notre Dame Club of San Jose/Silicon Valley has conducted a similar program at the Julian Street Inn for over 25 years, inspired by the philosophy that actions really do speak louder than words.
“There are so many rewards in the work we do and they always come when you least expect them,” Klug said. “Serving really makes us appreciate our lives and it also brings us great friendships. Interacting with volunteers and with the Summer Service kids has taught me so much about priorities.”
The Hesburgh Month of Service provides wonderful opportunities for Notre Dame alumni and friends of the University to give back to their communities. However, it also serves as a reminder of the numerous ongoing opportunities that exist through ND clubs across the country.
“Service is whatever you can do then and there, whether that is spending time, doing something physical, fundraising, mentoring, or check writing,” Klug said. “It is when you get people with diverse skills and interests together that you can really make an impact.”
You can sign up for the Hesburgh Month of Service here. Projects are not in all areas, but you can dedicate your own service project to Father Ted and report it to the Alumni Association as part of his gift.
If you have questions about the Hesburgh Month of Service, please contact Katie Rutledge ’04, the Alumni Association’s service program director, at Katie.Rutledge@nd.edu.