One day can make a difference.
On Friday, April 29, more than 450 Cardinal Stritch University students, faculty and staff illustrated that maxim by volunteering for Stritch Service Day. The university closed its campus so volunteers could serve in nearly a dozen Milwaukee area not-for-profit organizations.
“We are trying to come together as a community and who we are as a Catholic Franciscan community,” said Sean Lansing, director of mission engagement. “Every single person matters, all of creation matters; so how do we show it and our commitment to it?”
He said as a four-core university focusing on reverence and creation value, the school wanted to live its values as a community.
Lansing was impressed so many students chose the university’s first ever Service Day over studying for finals.
“We were really excited about the energy and enthusiasm for those who came out,” he said. “It is our intention to do this each year.”
The planning team picked Feeding America, Franciscan Motherhouse, Greentree Community Learning Center, Hunger Task Force, Milwaukee Center for Independence, Next Door Milwaukee, Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, St. Ann Center for
Intergenerational Care, and Urban Ecology Center, Victory Garden Initiative. Volunteers also collected items to donate to service site partners.
“We looked at sites that would allow us to enter into that value of reverence for creation more deeply and populations that are marginalized or maybe not considered as important as other people,” said Lansing. “There were lots of places to be outside and opportunities for students from the city to really experience nature and reverence for creation.”
Class, faculty suggest service project
Last fall, when Bennett Serchens’ team communication class was required to develop a project that could be implanted at Stritch, his group suggested a campus-wide service project.
“Turns out the faculty and staff had the same idea,” he said. “So throughout the semester, we worked diligently to create this tremendous day. It has been an absolute whirlwind, but I’m unbelievably proud of the planning team and all those that helped to make this day possible.”
The sophomore pre-med student served the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee.
“The highlight of the day had to be the kids showing off their dance moves and teaching all of us old people,” said Serchens. “I never worked with the Boys and Girls Club before, but I will be sure to in the future.”
He did not realize the strength of the university community.
“I knew we had an amazing community, but what we witnessed on Friday was beyond words,” he said.
Serving on the planning team for Service Day was wonderful, explained Kristen Landaal, a senior graduating in communications and minoring in religious studies. Seeing the Stritch community come together was a true reflection of the university’s mission and values, she said.
“I worked with the Boys and Girls Club at a school in Milwaukee. We were able to clean rooms that a lot of students interact in, as well as playing with children and assisting teachers,” she said. “The school was wonderful and the compassion and love we were able to share with students was a wonderful way to build community.”
Because of her Service Day experience, Landaal wants to give more to the community.
“There is so much you can learn about life through service,” she said. “Stritch and Franciscan teachings have really ingrained the importance of service to others. When you can’t give money, you can always give kindness and compassion. Service will always be a part of my life, and I hope this service day has inspired others to get involved and make the community a better place.”
Many ways to serve
When Diana Olivia, a junior majoring in secondary education and Spanish, helped plant trees at the Riverwalk Urban Ecology Center, she was amazed by the historical significance of the day.
“One thing that stuck with me was what one of the staff members at the Ecology Center said, ‘In 100 years, this tree will grow very tall; I won’t be alive for that, but all the other parts of nature will enjoy this tree very much,’” she said. “This struck me because it reminded me that although we were not helping someone face-to-face, there are so many more ways to do service than just like that. With our Franciscan value of reverencing creation this year, I could not think of a more Franciscan mindset than the one of the employee at the Urban Ecology Center.”
It wasn’t easy for Sarah Rose Werner, a writing and digital media/religious studies senior, to find time to volunteer, because she works and participates in organized sports.
“I went to the St. Ann’s Intergenerational Care Center and spent the day with infants under a year old,” she said.
Through her work, she learned of the ministries at St. Ann’s and the opportunities and services not only to those for whom they care, but also to their loved ones.
“You can tell that the people who work at St. Ann’s truly care, and are true Franciscans,” she said. “When I was feeding a baby today, she fell asleep in my arms. I was looking at her, and I could feel her heartbeat as she breathed deeply. I was sort of in awe of this small human being, a miracle and a masterpiece, that I was holding. I began to think about how she’s going to continue to grow, and how she will be someone who has a future and an impact on the world. I’ve been thinking a lot about humanity and what that really means. We treat children with such kindness, love, and patience; if only we continued to treat others the same way as they get older.”
Pride in serving others
Faculty member Lisa Gies pulled invasive weeds at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.
“It was one of my best days to be affiliated with Stritch, and I felt a strong sense of community and pride in serving others,” she said. “I saw students genuinely engage in service and show sincere appreciation for our environment. That gives me active hope and affects my relationship with Stritch in a positive manner.”
Carl Mueller, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, served as co-site leader at the Schlitz Audubon Center.
“It was so great to see everyone working together on a common mission, and it was particularly rewarding for me to see the degree to which everyone wanted to do the best job possible,” he said. “As we slowly worked our way up the side of a bluff near Lake Michigan, everyone was as careful as possible to identify the two species we were targeting and to remove all we came across. … It was great to see that people didn’t see this merely as an opportunity to participate in service; everyone saw it as an opportunity to truly serve in the best way they could.”
Work hard, but rewarding
Removing garlic mustard weeds from a walnut grove at the Hunger Taskforce Farm was hard but rewarding work for Laura Misco, assistant professor, English and writing.
“Our work was important in that anything that positively impacts the farm’s operation matter,” she said. “Pulling these weeds seemed small and tedious, but highlights how massive the operation at Hunger Taskforce is, and how hundreds of small tasks support the larger good.”
She said she hopes the students understand how much Stritch values community.
Noting the school wants its students to be known as agents of good, she said, “There are a million ways to get involved and work toward bettering the lives of others.”
The day began and ended with reflection.
“We shared stories and reflected on the larger issues of social justice and environmental justice issues of the 21st century,” said Lansing. “We also discussed why food banks are important in Milwaukee and why organizations exist that serve the elderly, what are social justice implications and what does that tell us about living our lives, fighting injustice and living more deeply who we are trying to become.”
Continuing the legacy of the Sisters of St. Francis, who have served the area of southeastern Wisconsin ever since their founding in 1849 is important, said Lansing.
“We are living out the legacy of our founders and emulating their spirit of service and social justice, as well as the spirit of being Franciscan around the world and meeting the needs of others,” he explained.