Summer of service program develops students, helps area

Students in Xavier’s summer service internship program get to lend a hand and earn a buck | August 5, 2003

Going to an Alzheimer's/dementia unit every day is not the way most college or high school students would spend their summer. But that’s exactly what Lucy Thoman and Lauren Gray did as summer service interns at Cedar Village in Mason, Ohio, where they worked with 29 residents of the village’s Alzheimer's/dementia unit.

Thoman and Gray are part of the University's summer service internship program, which pairs Xavier students with local high school students and enables them to use their talents to serve in the Greater Cincinnati community.

Now in its 10th year, the program is unique in that it offers stipends to the interns, enabling them to provide service and work in these settings without sacrificing those much-needed summer job paychecks. The mission is to develop “people for others” who will continue to make service an integral part of their lives.

This year, 24 Xavier interns worked at 24 agencies for 35 hours a week, logging about 8,400 hours of service in a 10-week period. Seventeen high school students from 16 local schools worked at 17 of the same agencies, logging about 1,260 hours of service. Combined, the college and high school interns contributed approximately 10,000 hours of service to Greater Cincinnati.

Thoman, a senior at Mother of Mercy High School, and Gray, a Xavier senior majoring in English, helped with Cedar Village’s Montessori program. They planned activities and provided one-to-one attention and companionship to the residents, including three Russian women who spoke no English.

“Being exposed to this culture and this communication barrier enabled us to step out of our boundaries and work to build relationships with these three women,” Thoman says. “We practiced a lot of patience and understanding. We also learned a lot about life through people many think have no purpose any more.”

Additionally, the internship encourages service learning by building a community of service interns on campus who can share insights, reflect on their experiences and address issues affecting society. Weekly reflection sessions allow students to exchange experiences, pose questions and provide support for one another. Students also read articles and keep a journal throughout the internship to help them gain broader understanding of the impact of their work.

“These experiences will help shape these students’ lives and lead them in directions they may have not gone if they had not had these experiences,” says Shelagh Larkin, director of the program.

Xavier senior Katie Meyer, majoring in theology and peace studies, worked at the Imago Earth Center with Shroder High School student Ashley Doty. Imago is a 16-acre nature preserve where groups come to enjoy the outdoors while learning about nature.

The pair worked with the center’s team-building program, helping children in the fifth grade and above learn group trust and communication techniques while maintaining respect for themselves and others. “We found it very rewarding to watch the children tackle a problem and solve their way out of it,” Meyer says.

Lisa Warner, a Xavier junior and University Scholar majoring in advertising, and Joshua Harris, a student at Roger Bacon High School, spent their internships as camp counselors for Camp I Can at the Children’s Home of Cincinnati. “As one of only two coed teams that worked together at the same site, we often brought a different perspective to our small group discussions,” Warner says. “I feel so lucky to have had an internship experience like this.”

The experience was extra meaningful for Harris whose mother worked at the Children’s Home years ago. “The reality at the Children’s Home was a little shocking. So much had changed since my mother worked there. These kids were not troubled. All these kids wanted was a little love and affection. Instead of the stress I expected to have, I had a lot of joy,” Harris says.

Even though his internship is over, Harris, like many other summer service interns, plans to work a few more weeks at Camp I Can. “I have built such strong relationships with the children and I’m just not ready to break them. Seeing those children and hearing the wonderful things they say, gives me hope that someday the world will be a better place.”

The program is supported by the Manuel D. and Rhoda Mayerson Foundation, The Procter & Gamble Fund, the Charles H. Dater Foundation, Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc., and John and Francie Pepper.