Vacations are the highlight of the summer for most, but for those who participate in the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown’s Summer Service Learning Program, service is what makes their break worthwhile.
“The biggest thing my eyes have been opened to through this program is that we don't have to go to some other place or country to lend a helping hand or impact a life,” Christian Dama reflects. “Through this program we are able to share in lives of those in our own community.”
She has volunteered with the Ursuline Sisters for three years, and is pleased with how many people are willing to help others in need. The Ursuline Sisters operate ministries in Trumbull, Mahoning and Ashtabula counties, such as Beatitude House, Ursuline Sisters HIV/AIDS Ministry and The Ursuline Center.
The Sisters’ Summer Service Learning Program, or SSL program, provides opportunities for college students to earn experience toward their career goals while providing service. Dama says the SSL has reinforced her love for working with children, and she now desires to continue doing this throughout her life.
“In pediatrics as a doctor or continued service through the church, I look forward to taking my experiences with this program and sharing them with others in the future,” she says.
Through the SSL program, Montana Gessler has realized that she can help to make a difference in other people’s lives, while exposing her to others in the area.
“I have learned that people are amazing. There are many people struggling in the area and many of them remain happy and grateful for what they have. It is humbling and inspiring,” says Gessler, Youngstown State University Industrial and Systems Engineering major.
Gessler has volunteered with the Ursuline Sisters for a year and a half, and it has not only helped her grow in her faith, she says, but it the professional realm as well.
She recently received an internship with Treemen Industries, Boardman. The president of the company, George Ogletree, says Gessler’s service with the Sisters set her above other applicants for the position. Ogletree believes it is important for his interns to be well-rounded.
He describes Gessler as “a bright student looking for an opportunity in her field of studies,” and says that and her record of service earned her the internship with his company.
Kristen Osiniak has also found that the SSL program has impacted her professionally and personally.
Osiniak, who is working toward her second Master’s degree at YSU, plans to have a career in school psychology and can make connections between her service and the field.
“I am able to tie in a lot of the experiences I had through volunteering with topics that are discussed in our courses,” she expresses, “My volunteer experience has opened my eyes and heart to extremely diverse cultures. Multiculturalism is emphasized in our program, as the populations of students we will serve continue to become more diverse.”
Osiniak volunteered with the Ursuline Sisters for three years and served as an AmeriCorps Education Specialist with the Sisters for six months. She credits Sister Norma Raupple, Director of Young Adult Outreach, with inspiring her.
“Sister Norma was the first person that I worked with, and her passion for helping others continued to bring me back for more volunteer opportunities,” she says.
In addition, Osiniak says her service has helped her to gained close friends, and she feels “lucky to be involved with such a caring group of people.”
Osiniak says she’s felt blessed to make a positive impact on others, especially children going through difficult times.
“I learned a lot about the type of person I am [through this program]. I truly value being able to share my time and talents to help others in need,” she adds.
Sister Norma believes that a program like this benefits both the volunteers and the community.
“Young children resonate with young adults [through this program], so it’s just a win-win. Most of our projects are with children who don’t have enrichment experiences, and they don’t have money to take advantage of a lot of opportunities,” she says. “This program gives them those experiences.
“Educationally, it helps the community. Underprivileged children are more likely to do better in school with our tutoring and support, so anything we can do to add stability benefits them in the long run,” Sister Norma adds.
More than 20 young adults participated in this program for the summer of 2017. Many of them returned from previous summers. At least five of them continued their service throughout the last year. Sister Norma believes that “a support group like this helps people become the better version of themselves.”
The SSL Program is open to college students that are 18 or older who have a desire to make a difference in the community. The students can and do continue volunteering through the school year if their schedules allow.
“We get a constant influx of students from Youngstown State University, especially from YSU Honors and social work students. After they get their volunteer hours, some of them continue with us,” Sister Norma says.
Rachel Gobep is majoring in Journalism at Youngstown State University, reports for The Jambar newspaper at YSU, and is interning as the Strategic Communications Specialist with the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown this summer.