Catholic colleges and universities strive to form students, staff, and faculty as leaders who are dedicated to serving their neighbors and working together to promote the common good. In Ex corde Ecclesiae, Pope St. John Paul II writes that one of the four “essential characteristics” of a Catholic university is that it has “an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family.” Catholic higher education has made a commitment to serving the community both locally and internationally: In 2013, 50 percent of ACCU member institutions were named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, highlighting these campuses as having “[achieved] meaningful, measureable outcomes in the communities they serve.” These campuses are recognized as pursuing a meaningful institutional commitment to serving their neighbors. To put this in perspective, this means that over 100 Catholic colleges and universities were recognized for service to their local communities.
Catholic Social Teaching and Youth Mentorship
Such achievements answer a call for Catholic institutions to serve the human family, with a special emphasis on service to the poor. In its pastoral letter “Economic Justice for All,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) writes, “The prime purpose of this special commitment to the poor is to enable them to become active participants in the life of society. […] It states that the deprivation and powerlessness of the poor wounds the whole community.” Both domestically and internationally, youth can be the most deprived and powerless members of any given community. As such, students at numerous Catholic colleges and universities strive to work for the common good and serve the community through programs that focus on youth mentorship and education.
Youth Mentorship in Catholic Higher Education
Ursuline College in Ohio is an outstanding example of a successful youth mentorship program. ARROWS (Academic Readiness Requires Outstanding Work and Support) “intends to provide Ursuline College students an opportunity to mentor [local] high school students,” the College explains in a news article, “while offering the high school students support through the completion of high school, and encouragement to pursue postsecondary education.” As Ursuline is an all-female college, the coordinators of ARROWS decided to offer the program exclusively to local high school girls. The effect on both mentees and mentors is profound.
Ursuline College student mentor Eadaoin Cronin highlights the meaning of the program to both the mentees and the mentors, saying “It’s great how we are paired up with a Warrensville Heights [student] and we get to see them develop into successful young women. We meet with the students around six times per year. During each visit, we talk with our mentees and we monitor their progress.” Cronin added, “The mentors and mentees set goals at the beginning of the year and it’s extremely satisfying when the students reach those goals. …Many of the mentees aspire to attend college and it is our duty to help them achieve this milestone.”
ARROWS clearly fosters a culture of encounter among both Ursuline students and Warrensville Heights students.Through the process of working with the Ursuline students, the mentees learn to take control of their education and thus are empowered to achieve their personal, academic, and career goals. To both cohorts, the program offers an avenue to grow and develop academically, spiritually, and personally.
Another example of an exceptional youth mentorship program is Fun, Fit, Fridays at Barry University in Miami, Florida, geared toward local elementary school students. Located a quarter-mile from the Barry University campus, Hubert O. Sibley Elementary School has been participating in Fun, Fit, Fridays since 2009.
According to Andy Havens, the director of Fun, Fit, Fridays and intramural coordinator for the Barry University Department of Campus Recreation and Wellness, the Sibley Elementary School mentees are nominated by their teachers as students who could benefit from mentoring, and are often students with academic or behavioral challenges. These students then spend their Friday afternoons in character-building lessons, physical education activities, creative expression through fine and performing arts, campus tours, homework help, and more, all led by Barry students, staff, and faculty. At the end of each session, the participants take time to reflect on that day’s experience through journaling and sharing their experiences with their parents and guardians.
Dr. Darlene Kluka, dean of Barry University’s School of Performance and Leisure Sciences, shared how Fun, Fit, Fridays is an example of how the university’s mission is lived: “We believe at Barry that learning leads to knowledge and truth, and that reflection leads to informed action. …We also have a commitment to social justice, and that leads to collaborative service.”
In addition to these four ideals – knowledge, truth, social justice, and collaborative service – Kluka included “inclusive community” to round out Barry’s five “core commitments.” Fun, Fit, Fridays has developed into a program that comprises each of these five commitments. By assisting participants with academics and etiquette, the program seeks to foster in Sibley students a thirst for knowledge and truth. Havens and Kluka hope this will inspire Barry University students to learn how to more effectively participate in their communities by staying abreast of and involved in current and future social justice and service initiatives. In this way, the dean added, Fun, Fit, Fridays looks to create “opportunities for us to be doing God’s work,” by living out the call to work for the common good of the community.
ARROWS and Fun, Fit, Fridays demonstrate how Catholic higher education serves the youth of local communities. ARROWS seeks to empower young women through academic preparedness and support for entering higher education. Fun, Fit, Fridays provides an opportunity for students to combine their love of sport with their love for their neighbors through education and companionship. By living the call to create a culture of encounter and solidarity between youth and young adults, as well as building a stronger local community, Ursuline College and Barry University exemplify the institutional commitment of Catholic higher education to serve their neighbors.
Justine Worden is an undergraduate student at Georgetown University and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.