By Bianca Esquivel
What does S.E.R.V.E. Austin do?
According to the Office of Community Engagement, St. Edward’s, Reflect, Volunteer, Engage (S.E.R.V.E.) Austin is an opportunity for students to work in collaboration with area nonprofits to focus on a variety of social issues. You can volunteer with seven different nonprofits, or placement programs, where you will get to learn and fully explore critical issues in the greater Austin area. This allows you to connect course content with life experience. Applications open at the start of every semester, and each placement typically has an average of five volunteers per placement.
Students can choose from seven different placement programs that include:
- Foundation Communities
- Casa Marianella
- Posada Esperanza
- American Youth Works
- Todos Juntos
- River City Youth Foundation
- VICTORY Tutorial
- El Buen Samaritano
- Austin Partners in Education
- Riverside Nursing & Rehabilitation Center
- IDEA Allan Academy
- Mary House Catholic Worker
The volunteer task and purpose for every placement varies. For example, In VICTORY Tutoring, members are able to tutor K-12 students and learn about education in Austin through VICTORY Tutoring, or volunteer at a shelter for recently arrived immigrants and people seeking asylum through Casa Marianella. Every placement offers members the experience to interact with people in the community as well as the opportunity learn about their stories, and the chance to give back for a positive cause. Click here to learn about these placement programs!
What do you get out of participating in S.E.R.V.E Austin?
Besides getting food and free t-shirts, members also get to build relationships through reflection. Placement leaders of S.E.R.V.E. Austin often engage the members by asking them about their weeks. Common questions asked include questioning a member’s high’s and low’s as well as other exercises to help the group get to know each other. Additionally, three times a semester, the organization holds a Sunday Reflection, where everyone in S.E.R.V.E. Austin sits with their groups—often groups consist of mixing members of different placements—and take time to talk to each other about what they are experiencing in their placements, how things are going, and what they’re gaining from it. During these monthly reflections, Carly Badke, S.E.R.V.E. Austin’s coordinator, adds that “What we see a lot is new perspectives on topics. [Members] feel really good about helping, which often spurs conversations about making an impact beyond St. Edward’s, beyond the diploma on the wall, and breaking out of that bubble that college life can be at times.” Above all, being a part of S.E.R.V.E Austin means being a part of a community and a part of something bigger than yourself.
Service through S.E.R.V.E. Austin helps you build skills of commitment and teamwork, as well as how to deal with tough issues (education, immigration, etc.), depending on their placement program. Not to mention, membership looks great on resume, and shows leadership initiative, interest in service, teamwork, and philanthropic endeavors, which are qualities employers typically find favorable. Members are also able able to network with the coordinators in placement they work with, increasing possibilities of internships or jobs with the particular organization.
What does S.E.R.V.E. Austin contribute the St. Edward’s community?
To learn more about what the organization does, I spoke with Badke who describes S.E.R.V.E. as a St. Edward’s program that focuses on connecting the community to the university and helping students find volunteer opportunities and participate in social justice initiatives that involve working directly with people or a specific issue. Badke explained that “for faculty, staff, students, classes, university partners who are looking for service projects, and organizations who need volunteers, our office (Office of Community Engagement) and our online database Volunteer Connect is the link that connects. We want to be the hub for engagement off campus and in the Austin community.”
St. Edward’s mission is to encourage students to engage in service, and S.E.R.V.E. Austin is one of St. Edward’s’ best sources to do so as it is structured in a way for students to do consistent service, build relationships with each other and the community, such as the people they work with and the volunteer coordinators at their placements. When asked about what members can gain out of the organization and how those experiences contribute to campus, Badke affirmed, “We hope to expose members to social justice issues, or the ‘problems’ of Austin, the suffering that people experience, and the resources that are available.” Members bring these experiences back to campus, where they are able to bring up their experiences in class and add to conversations about social justice, something St. Edward’s strives to expand.
How can students get involved?