Kate Figiel-Miller, Assistant Director for Service-Learning, Center for Community Service and Justice, shares her reflections as CCSJ celebrates its 25th Anniversary.
It so deeply affirms and grounds my work to be awash in the warm enthusiasm of 25 years of people whose lives were set on course by their encounters here. As change agents, we community-engaged educators plan partnerships that make a tangible difference to our neighbors here and now. As educators, on the other hand, and especially as experiential educators, we may carefully arrange service-learning opportunities and reflection assignments aimed toward precise learning objectives, but ultimately we don’t control what students experience—let alone what they take away.
We proceed on faith that students will learn what we want them to—better yet, that they will learn whatever each needs to learn to walk a path of meaning, connectedness, and justice. If we’re doing it right (and if we’re lucky), students encounter here for the first time, variously, poverty, racism, systems of injustice, their own privilege and role in change-making, tools for activism, and finding community in surprising places.
How powerful it has been to see the fruits of this labor decades down the line. Our alumni have done stints in Botswana or living at Catholic Worker Houses. They are thoughtful parents, engaged citizens, and ethical consumers and businesspeople. They do incredible work in immigration, housing, workforce development, and education, from direct service to law to advocacy. Go forth and set the world on fire, my friends. Thank you for showing me that, difficult as the work sometimes is, we must be doing something right.