The service-learning program offers new perspectives on the region and its inhabitants.
Just before the beginning of the fall semester, a group of first-year and transfer students moved onto campus a week early. They are not here to get a jump on classwork, rather they are part of the Leadership, Engagement and Service (LENS) program. Service-based and collegial, the program exposes students to Philadelphia and its environs through community service work.
The team of about ten is introduced to SSJ sponsored works and social justice issues in and around the city. They enjoy down-time at museums or sporting events, pizza parties and fun events such as scavenger hunts in Chestnut Hill.
The students must apply to participate around the time they get their letters of acceptance in the spring. They arrive a week before anyone else and move into their residence halls. Then, in an action-packed four days, they achieve program goals. This year, three former LENS participants returned as student leaders.
"The program is always evolving," says Shane McCarthy '11, service-learning assistant. "We're building strong community relations and helping to identify incoming student leaders."
This year the group worked with senior citizens at Center in the Park, a recreation center in Germantown, where they also cleaned and fixed up the facility. And they worked on the Weaver's Way Farm on Washington Lane in Mt. Airy, learning about organic, urban farming as they weeded, harvested and planted crops. At the Philabundance warehouse in South Philadelphia, they sorted through more than 20,000 pounds of pineapple — that week's largest donation. They also worked with the Broad Street Ministry organizing clothing donations and learning about mail sorting for those without permanent addresses.
"Those without a permanent address can get a P.O. box address through the ministry," explains McCarthy. "Because without an address you can't get a license or a job. The students got to see how much work such a small staff can do and how important the volunteers are."
LENS is run through the Office of Service Learning.