A Tradition of Service
Service is an integral part of our Notre Dame mission, which calls on us to build inclusive communities, to engage in service to others, and to promote social responsibility. There are many opportunities for students to engage in community service, both here in Baltimore and abroad.
The Davis Projects for Peace
What could three college students do to help improve the livelihoods of women living in Africa?
That was the vexing question facing Gabrielle Rehmeyer, Andreina Mijares-Cisneros and Amber Brehon as they wrestled with developing a proposal for the Davis Projects for Peace, an initiative that funds grassroots projects anywhere in the world.
They settled on traveling to Swaziland, a small country in southern Africa where Gabrielle lived with her missionary parents before coming to Notre Dame. Her parents had helped organize a women’s cooperative that sewed handicrafts that the members sold for family income, and that co-op offered possibilities.
“We thought about a lot of activities: doing something environmentally friendly, building a soccer field, educating expectant mothers about HIV and AIDS, nutrition,” says Amber. “Eventually, in talking with Gabrielle, we heard about her parents’ sewing project in Swaziland. We couldn’t sew. But two of us could crochet. And we thought, ‘Here is a group of 20 or so women who are already organized. If we could help them learn to crochet, this could only help their business grow.’”
Armed with a $10,000 grant from the Davis Projects for Peace and several suitcases full of colorful yarn, they set off during their summer break for Swaziland, where they spent several weeks teaching women and girls in a community called Section 19 how to crochet scarves, bags and other items that they could sell to boost their income. The money helped these women buy food and medicine—and granted them a measure of independence.“The women have been selling their products to different missionary groups that come through or in the market, and it brings in money for their community,” says Gabrielle. “Where they live there is really no means of employment, even for the men, unless they can get odd jobs here and there picking up scraps from the sugar cane fields. But that pays barely anything.”
Amber calls the experience “life changing.”
“It’s amazing how an idea that just popped into three peoples’ heads could in some way have impacted life for 20 women in Africa,” she says.
Gabrielle was amazed at how quickly the women picked up the skill. “They were coming up with new ideas when we were there,” she says. “After a few weeks of learning how to crochet, they were making things that even Amber and Andreina had never seen or didn’t know how to do. So they took it and ran with it.”
And Andreina said that although the three Notre Dame students went to Swaziland hoping to help the people there, it was the women of Section 19 who left a lasting impression.
“We went there to try and teach a group of women a skill that might help them,” she says, “and they ended up teaching us more than we ever imagined.”
Project Homeless Connect
More than 200 students, faculty and staff boarded buses and traveled downtown to the Baltimore Convention Center to volunteer for the United Way of Central Maryland's Project Homeless Connect, which helped link Baltimore homeless community to vital services. Notre Dame had by far the best turnout of any of the local colleges that participated, which included Towson University, University of Baltimore, UMBC, University of MD-Baltimore, MICA, Stevenson, Loyola, Johns Hopkins, Morgan, Goucher and Coppin.
Notre Dame President Joan Develin Coley was among the dignitaries who addressed the volunteers before the event began.
"In some sense we might think it is a sacrifice to be here, but it is no exaggeration to say that we always gain more than we give when we extend a helping hand to another human being," Dr. Coley said. "The presence of so many people here today says something important about the homeless clients we will encounter. It says that they matter and that we value them."
The showing by Notre Dame prompted United Way CEO Mark Furst to post on the NDMU Facebook page:
"Awesome turnout today by NDMU. Over 200 people. THANK YOU (and United Way says thanks too)."
Senior Day of Service
April 7 and May 20
Volunteers from United Way of Central Maryland, Notre Dame of Maryland University and PNC distributed summer reading bags to Head Start students to take home for the summer—filling an urgent learning need in the lives of these low-income children as Head Start experiences funding cuts due to federal sequestration.
More than 150 Notre Dame of Maryland University volunteers mobilized to help pack 3,600 bags of summer reading books on April 7 that were distributed by United Way of Central Maryland to Head Start locations across Baltimore City the following day. On May 20, these bags of summer reading books were handed out to Head Start students while volunteers from Notre Dame of Maryland University, United Way of Central Maryland and PNC Bank read stories to the children.
“Head Start is pivotal to low-income children and their families, helping lay the foundation of their academic success. Placing several new books in each home will help all of Baltimore City’s Head Start children stave off learning loss during the summer,” said Mark Furst, president and CEO of UWCM. “Literacy and a strong education are important steps to self-sufficiency.”