Posted: Friday Feb 7, 2014
Feb. 7, 2014
“The work I do is a beautiful gift for others and I am blessed to witness the Lord working through me and my students for the good of others,” commented Lauren J. Donahue, Saint Vincent College’s assistant director of campus ministry for social outreach about her unique role at the Catholic, Benedictine, liberal arts college.
“Saint Vincent is an educational community rooted in the tradition of the Catholic faith, the heritage of Benedictine monasticism and the love of values inherent in the liberal approach to life and learning,” she continued. “Our mission is to provide a quality education that enables students to integrate their professional aims with the broader purposes of human life. My work focuses on providing students with opportunities to participate in a wide variety of activities and experiences that combine their spirituality with service to others.”
The projects Donahue undertakes represent the continuation of longstanding traditions as well as new initiatives.
“We have coordinated campus blood drives for a long time,” she noted. “We do these three or four times each year, working with both the Red Cross and Central Blood Bank. We try to find incentives to motivate the students to participate such as offering coupons for free coffee at the campus coffee shop or a park-anywhere prize pass good during final exam week.”
A special event marking its 30th anniversary this year, Sports Friendship Day, is designed for persons with special needs, intellectual disabilities or physical limitations. More than 150 Saint Vincent students serve as volunteer “buddies” to assist the guests with crafts, athletic contests and hospitality.
One of the activities is just for young men. “We have men, some of whom are members of the student chapter of the Knights of Columbus, who go to Adelphoi Village homes every two weeks and conduct Bible study groups,” Donahue said. “Their consistent presence helps to build trust among the residents.”
Other service projects are designed to serve Catholic high school students. “We offer area Catholic high schools an opportunity to come to Saint Vincent for a day retreat,” she explained. “I help with the logistics while students and other staff members of Campus Ministry provide hospitality, lead sessions and speak about various topics. We welcome any interested high school to contact us and schedule a retreat.”
One of Donahue’s new initiatives is a group called S.W.A.G. – which stands for sacrifice, witness, adore and glorify. “When I first started this position, I was planning events and programs and struggled to serve a consistent group of students” she explained. “I really wanted to offer students opportunities to serve in accordance to their wants, but struggled to identify their interests, so I developed S.W.A.G. It started with just four student leaders who worked with me to organize programs. They were the representatives of the students’ voices so that the programs that we chose to do were in line with what the students really wanted to do and the opportunities they needed. It’s grown tremendously and we now have more than 160 students registered and 8 captains. We have four teams and each have two team captains but anyone can participate. They coordinate service and social outreach projects including visits to the Emeritus Nursing Home to make crafts with the residents, service at a food bank, volunteer work at a soup kitchen, raking leaves for those who are homebound and volunteering with Faith In Action.”
Another new initiative involves the Make-a-Wish Foundation. “We are looking into the possibility of helping Make-a-Wish with one of its fundraising events or being involved in helping them fulfill a wish,” Donahue related. “Our students definitely want to do more projects that are hands-on and active. Last semester we did a lot of great projects like the shoe drive collection for Soles4Souls. It was a huge success in that we collected nearly 1,000 pairs of shoes. But students said they wanted to see the person who was being helped and the lives they are changing. They want to tangibly see the good that is coming from their service.”
In addition to the service projects, Donahue said that she values the opportunity to give students the chance to engage more on Christian living experiences. “We do a lot of social events that encourage a healthy lifestyle,” she noted. “We have bonfires, a pumpkin carving contest, we go roller skating, bowling and ice skating. We are planning an Easter egg hunt and a kickball tournament in the spring. We believe that having a strong sense of community is beneficial when serving.”
Donahue works an irregular schedule in the morning, afternoon and evening hours during the weekdays and on weekends as projects require. “I don’t mind the schedule because I live in campus housing and I love working with our students,” she said.
Another part of Donahue’s work is coordination of Campus Ministry mission trips and religious pilgrimages. ”I handle the travel and itinerary arrangements with the travel agents and any of the tour guides we utilize,” she added. “Our trips include a religious pilgrimage to Rome and mission trips to Brazil, Alaska, China and Taiwan.”
Why does Donahue think her work is important? “I think it’s obvious in some ways that our mission at Saint Vincent is to give students the opportunities to grow in their faith and in their intellect as a person. Students want to find the way to connect their faith with their interests and their future careers and things that they’re called to do,” she said. “I think that these social outreach opportunities give students a chance to grow in their faith and connect with others while they’re serving others. I think it gives them a really great perspective of the blessings they have, and it can give them the opportunity to see directly the ways that they can serve others in their daily lives. Students can find a way to be inspired and to continue to grow and connect their work and faith.”
Donahue said that her personal reward comes from working directly with student leaders. “While students help organize the majority of projects I undertake, I am most inspired by their passion to continue to give back, but it’s amazing to see them grow into strong leaders as well.”
Donahue, a native of Walkersville, Md., and the daughter of Kevin and Maryalice Donahue, attended Walkersville High School and chose to pursue her undergraduate education at Saint Vincent because she wanted to study theology at a Catholic college. She was active at Saint Vincent in campus life activities including the Orientation Committee, Activities Programming Board and Campus Ministry. She also played varsity field hockey and performed in campus musical productions. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with honor in theology and arts administration in 2012. She is currently a graduate research assistant at IUP and pursuing a master of arts degree in student affairs in higher education. She expects to complete her studies in May. She is a member of Saint Timothy’s Roman Catholic Church in Walkersville.
What are her personal plans for the future? “I really don’t know,” she admitted. “It all depends on where God leads me.”
Photo: Lauren J. Donahue
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