By Anne Marie Amacher
DAVENPORT — For the third year in a row, St. Ambrose University has been honored among higher education institutions for its support of volunteerism, service learning and civic engagement.
The Davenport-based Catholic university has been recognized by the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the 2011-12 academic year, when students contributed 61,425 hours of community service.
“Service to the community is simply a part of who we are as a university,” said St. Ambrose President Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ. “We are truly honored to have been chosen for the President’s Community Service Honor Roll. More importantly, we are proud of our students as they fulfill the St. Ambrose mission of ‘enriching lives.’”
Father Chuck Adam, director of campus ministry, said St. Ambrose strives to “instill in students a sense of responsibility for others as an integral tenet of our faith. Catholicism holds dear the basic belief that we are not simply rugged individuals, but that we were made for community with God and with each other. Service is one way to put that belief into action.”
Secondly, he said, as a diocesan university rooted in the specific community that is the Diocese of Davenport, “we emphasize the need to be a leaven for good in the local community.”
Fr. Adam said campus ministry oversees much of the service done by students and other members of the St. Ambrose community. Staff members who have day-to-day responsibilities in assisting students in service and developing opportunities include Stella O’Rourke, director of co-curricular service and justice ministry. Also deeply involved in community service is Ray Shovlain, director of athletics, who is a firm believer in it. He requires all athletes participate in community service each year.
“We are also seeing academic departments adding service opportunities to their curriculum,” Fr. Adam said.
Service begins practically as soon as first-year students step on campus. On the morning of their second day they are sent out to various nonprofit agencies and organizations and volunteer several hours through the “Urban Plunge” day of service.
An estimated 600 first-year students will spread throughout the Quad-City area later this month for the Urban Plunge.
The second largest one-day service event, “Bee the Difference Day,” began as a student initiative to reach out to the university’s neighbors in the fall of 2006, Fr. Adam said. On a Sunday afternoon in late autumn, students assist neighbors, especially the elderly, in raking leaves, cleaning gutters and performing other household chores.
Service of some kind happens nearly every week: hunger drives, Habitat for Humanity work, confirmation retreats for parishes, and ministries in the campus chapel. Countless hours of service are completed by students helping organizations, schools and centers in the Quad-City area community, he said.
Service opportunities also are available outside the community during acadmic breaks. These include service trips to Appalachia, inner-city Chicago and East St. Louis, Ill.
“We also respond to situations as they arise,” Fr. Adam noted. Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a group of students traveled to New Orleans to help with cleanup. After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a group of students traveled to Manhattan and volunteered at a food line for recovery workers. This year, plans are being made for a spring break trip to Haiti.
“Having done the Urban Plunge now for four years, we can say that most all of our students do service. The Bee the Difference Day is completely voluntary and involves over 300 students,” Fr. Adam said.
Kemper Rusteberg, a junior at St. Ambrose, said participating in the Urban Plunge his freshman year “was a great way to bond with and get to know my peers. I also got to help the community and learn about the Quad-City area.”
Through campus ministry, Rusteberg has gotten involved in Green Life, an environmental organization. One service project he did for that group was to pull mustard seed, a non-native plant to the area. He has also provided service through Ambrosians for Peace and Justice and the hunger drive. “The only thing mandated was Urban Plunge. I got the bug and want to go out and do a lot more,” he said.
As vice president of student government, Rusteberg said he has been involved with Bee the Difference Day, which is co-sponsored by campus ministry and student government. “It’s a great project; you get to meet the neighbors and you get a cool shirt.”
Rusteberg said service is built into the culture of St. Ambrose. “One you get the bug you are not only helping yourself, but your community. It’s a reward I can’t describe.”