A couple weeks ago, our family took a trip to Cincinnati to tour Xavier University, one of the schools on our middle daughter, Chiana’s list.

Besides the beautiful campus and the fact that students can attend the basketball games for free, one of the things that struck me most about the Jesuit school was the fact that virtually every student we spoke with mentioned service work.

Our tour guide, “was really into service,” and spoke of all the things she does in the Cincinnati area; a panel of students listed their activities and all four rattled off a bunch of volunteer sites they regularly visit; another, when asked why she chose Xavier, said she “really loved service” and knew the school encouraged it.

Doing service comes naturally to so many young people today, and it is something they seem to seek.

Service opportunities are not limited to Xavier, by any means. A few days later, we received an email from Marquette’s coordinator of community service programs that included a huge list of volunteer opportunities in which MU students participate. Along with the list came the reminder that “we need to be with others” and to “stand side-by-side with the marginalized in our community.”

When I was growing up, I was aware of volunteer opportunities and, in fact, spent several years as a candy striper at the former St. Michael Hospital on Milwaukee’s northwest side.

I also had the good fortune to grow up in a family where volunteering was second-nature. My parents were involved in parish, school, organizations, and fundraisers. Even in the last few year’s of my dad’s life as his health declined, he was regularly doing his “bread runs” where he picked up surplus baked goods from stores and took them to places that served the poor.

Yet, as I compare my experiences with the experiences of people my daughters’ ages, it seems that today’s youth are more inclined to get involved with service as an ongoing part of their lives.

For example, doing service work is a yearly requirement for students at Divine Savior Holy Angels, but so many of the girls go above and beyond what is required. It’s not unusual for them to have two or three regular weekly commitments. Each of the sports teams, for example, plans a day of service sometime during the year.

In the Catholic Herald, we often feature young people serving society through volunteer work.

“Community service is part of their DNA. It’s part of this generation to care about something larger than themselves,” said Michael Brown of young adults, in an April 19, 2009 article in USA Today. Brown is CEO of City Year, which places young mentors in urban schools.

The article went on to say that surveys show people born between 1982 and 2000 are the most civic-minded since the generation of the 1930s and 1940s, according to the authors of “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics.”

Anecdotally, I certainly find that to be true.

In their columns this month on Page 3, Annemarie and Jacob Scobey-Polacheck discuss service. Jacob’s column adds to that anecdotal evidence I mentioned – as he writes about his experiences over fall break when he and a group of his peers opted to take a service trip to Appalachia instead of a trip to the sunny weather and beaches of Florida! You’ll be impressed to learn how that trip offered him a new perspective into his own faith life.

Meanwhile, Annemarie describes how her perspective on service is changing. As her children grow older, she’s moving from the person who was the sole coordinator of service opportunities for her family to one who can observe from the sidelines, at times, as her children put into action the lessons she and her husband have modeled through the years.

Our feature story this month, “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, Traditions make celebrations meaningful,” on Pages 8 and 9 also includes a call to service. Writer Karen Mahoney spoke with several families and religious educators about ways to keep the focus on the spiritual during the Advent/Christmas season, instead of getting too wrapped up in secular celebrations.

Several of the suggestions involved doing service as a family or doing good works in order to make Christmas meaningful. Perhaps there will be suggestions in that story that you’ll incorporate into future family Christmas celebrations?

As we head into this sacred time of the year when we prepare for and celebrate our Savior’s birth, we send our wishes to you and your family for a blessed Advent and Christmas!