By Rebecca Esparza ’99 BBA ’03 MBA
When over 20,000 people descended upon San Antonio to escape the wrath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, La., one of the deadliest hurricanes in history, University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) students were there to assist. Students and faculty from the Ila Faye Miller School of Nursing spent countless hours meeting the needs of evacuees sheltered at Kelly USA in San Antonio.
“Service is an essential element within our curriculum, offering students studies that include a global perspective, with an emphasis on social justice and community service,” said Dr. Bob Connelly, assistant to associate provost for UIW. “This reflects the lasting influence of the first Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word who left France and came to San Antonio in 1869 to minister to the community of sick and poor of South Texas. They created health care and educational institutions, including UIW. This dedication to serving others in need continues through UIW’s public service activities.”
Recently, UIW’s dedication to community service has been recognized with a special distinction. The university has been named to the 2014 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, distinguishing UIW as a leader in community service.
“This award is the highest federal recognition an institution can receive for its community service. The last time we received it was in 2006, in part for our response to Hurricane Katrina,” said Connelly. “UIW applied in two categories, General Community Service and Interfaith Community Service. In the Interfaith category, only 90 schools were honored, with three in Texas. UIW was the only institution in San Antonio.”
The distinction in 2014 was received based on UIW’s general community service efforts, such as Volunteers in Income Tax Program (VITA), Meet the Mission, and Golden Harvest; and interfaith community service initiatives, such as the Refugee Resettlement Program and interfaith engagement in the classroom and co-curricular activities.
For the past 25 years, UIW has required all students to complete 45 hours of community service before graduation.
“Graduates from 2012-13 accumulated over 100,000 hours of service in our local community and more than 20,000 hours on UIW campuses. Also, graduates typically average at least 10 hours more than the minimum requirement,” Connelly added.
Several faculty-sponsored organizations and projects are considered exemplary examples of ways students give back to the community through service.
“Eight years ago, faculty took the lead in creating a beginning-of-the-year experience called Meet the Mission,” Connelly said. “This is a day set aside for faculty, students and staff to provide needed services in a variety of settings in the community.”
Dr. Christopher Edelman, assistant professor of philosophy, is a former faculty co-organizer for Meet the Mission, held in the fall, and its spring counterpart, Alternative Spring Break.
“Meet the Mission is a yearly service event that was founded by Dr. Harold Rodinsky [assistant professor of psychology] in 2006. Each September, faculty and staff are invited to recruit teams of students to serve with them at sites around the city, including non-profit organizations, community centers, and churches, such as St. PJ’s Children’s Home, the Center for Refugee Services, the Ella Austin Community Center, and St. Timothy’s Catholic Church,” Edelman explained.
The hope is that students will return to the organizations they encounter during Meet the Mission and continue volunteerism on their own.
“We aimed to serve as a hands-on introduction to the university’s Mission of service and hoped it contributed to the building of a sense of community among our students, faculty, and staff,” Edelman said. “Friendships are often formed among students during service projects. Students report they also become more comfortable approaching professors for help outside of class, after having spent time doing community service with them.”
UIW’s Ettling Center for Civic Leadership, named for founder Sr. Dorothy (Dot) Ettling, CCVI, is a partnership between UIW and CHRISTUS Health. The center is instrumental in working with students, faculty and departments campus-wide with civic engagement and service opportunities by collaborating in partnership with local and global community stakeholders.
“One of our goals is to be a resource for students to find out about service opportunities,” said Monica Cruz, director for the Ettling Center for Civic Leadership, “a clearinghouse of information of service opportunities.”
There are other programs that have had a high impact on not only the community as a whole, but on the students who donated their time and energy to the worthwhile causes.
Cardinals for Kids, a UIW Mission and Ministry student organization, is dedicated to raising awareness and funds for the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio Foundation. Their efforts at several events throughout the year raised $35,000 for the foundation.
In 1984, an accounting professor initiated the Volunteers in Income Tax Program (VITA) at UIW. The program is now the longest continuously operating VITA site in the City of San Antonio. Tax returns are prepared for the low income and elderly of the community at no charge.
Just recently, UIW expanded its community service with the Refugee Resettlement in San Antonio, in collaboration with Catholic Charities. Students from the Global Refugees course assist with resettlement basics: how to answer mail, how to apply for food stamps and Medicaid, go shopping, and how to deal with emergencies.
Paul Ayala, director of university events and student programs, said he believes students who participate in community service programs appreciate the experience on many levels.
“I think students who complete community service are caring, compassionate, grateful, and happy people. The first two characteristics are drivers that make these individuals want to do community service. The latter two characteristics are a result of how community service transforms students,” he said.
Ayala, who has been with UIW for four years, has helped the Student Government Association host Golden Harvest, an opportunity for students to collect canned food for the San Antonio Food Bank before Thanksgiving.
“UIW students care about their community. Our students have a passion to serve and it is evident in their commitment to making this program a success,” Ayala said. “Our students come back from the event appreciating the meaning of community service and grateful for the many blessings in their lives.”