Five undergraduate college students reflect on the values they’ve learned from their parishes, families and schools by sharing inspirational glimpses of how they’ve given back to their community with love and compassion in the midst of college anxiety and stress. They are examples of leading life with beauty for the young and old.
As the 2010-2011 school year winds down, college undergraduates can be caught skimming through old pencil-smudged music theory notes or their “never-been-touched” organic chemistry textbook. Perhaps they’ll clock five hours of sleep, order Chinese food at 10:30 p.m., hunt for an apartment, or even look for a new school. But what do they do when they’re not haunted by school, stress and fatigue?
Tara Yang, 19, of Green Bay, is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and follows in the footsteps of her grandfather as she devotes her time to volunteering in hospitals and reading to children of low-income housing through organizations around campus.
“Charity and truth run deep in my family because my uncles, aunts and grandparents were sponsored here by a church, and so in return, my grandpa founded an association (Hmong Mutual Assistance Association) to help immigrants and the association is still running even to this day, and hopefully in the future,” said Yang, whose family roots stem from Laos.
Along with doing community service, Yang is a full-time student pursuing a major in life science communications. With a full schedule, and trying to find time to do service within her organizations, Yang has to plan.
“We meet at night (the organizations) and always plan ahead two or three weeks (before) to make sure we can take off work or talk to our professors to make sure we have no conflicts (with an event),” she said.
Ana Brondino, 19, of Bayside, a freshman attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, also understands the importance of time management.
“I made sure at the beginning of the year to plan my schedule accordingly,” said Brondino, an undeclared major. Like Yang, Brondino tries to keep community building as a part of her everyday life.
“Since the beginning of the school year, I have been a regular volunteer with the Big Brother Big Sister of Metro Milwaukee Program. I am a ‘Big’ to a fourth-grader that I see once a week,” Brondino said. “I also participate in events that the Center for Volunteerism and Student Leadership (CVSL) organizes on weekends, such as beach walks, hunger clean-ups, Habitat for Humanity and others.”
Brondino credits St. Eugene, her Catholic grade school, with igniting the need she feels to help others in the community.
“We often participated in community service either by just simply mentoring a younger child, doing gardening in bad neighborhoods, or assisting the elderly occasionally,” she said.
Having charitable values cultivated by a Catholic grade school is a notion shared by freshman Jessica Galioto-Grebe, 19, of Milwaukee’s East Side. Currently attending the University of Denver with a major in English, Galioto-Grebe looks back at her time spent at Catholic East Elementary.
“I was part of a ‘Service Club’ in grade school and I remember buying Christmas presents for low-income families with the money we fundraised…we were able to give 10 kids all the presents they asked for and more!” said Galioto-Grebe.
Galioto-Grebe is also involved in her residence hall leadership team and the residence hall association.
“These organizations have collaborated for various community service projects such as making fleece blankets for Children’s Hospital and fundraising money and sponsoring a team for ‘Relay for Life,’” she said.
But when asked why she feels inspired as a busy college student to do community service, Galioto-Grebe admitted, “Most people feel like service is an obligation, but when you set a goal to include even a small amount of service in your schedule, it can be a stress relief!”
Taking values from home and applying them to the school community is a common thread among these students, but another student rations her time with the home community as well as her Jesuit school community.
Yvette Ssempijja, 19, of Wauwatosa, takes care of her community while embracing her African heritage.
“I do a lot of service for the Pan African community back in Milwaukee and I do service at the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago off the Morse (redline subway train) stop here in Chicago,” said Ssempijja, who is a sophomore at Loyola University, majoring in health systems management and bioethics. Community can be in different forms and Ssempijja added, “Service has many different dimensions and I give back to the Loyola community in other ways by mentoring, planning community events, and much more.”
Ssempijja was recently chosen by her Loyola community to be the president of Loyola’s “African Student Alliance” for the 2011-2012 school year.
Jessie Bazan, 19, of Whitefish Bay, thinks surrounding herself with motivated people helps inspire her to keep doing community service.
“It is nice that many of my friends are also service-driven so we kind of keep tabs on each other to make sure we’re all fulfilling our duties,” Bazan said.
Being a freshman communications major at Marquette University helps Bazaan stay committed to service. “Attending a school like Marquette, where service is so stressed and encouraged, motivates me to continue on with any service work I can do,” she said.
While college is busy for Bazan, she believes that “‘truth’ and ‘charity’ need to be words of action.”
“People need to be truthful to themselves and those around them in everyday lives. It is important, especially as Christians and people of faith, that we live honorably and respectfully,” she said. “Charity goes along these same lines, as it involves being respectful of all those you serve. It is our Christian duty to be charitable and donate our time to help others.”