POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — Marist College’s weekly community service, which operates through Campus Ministry, changes every year – and this year is no different.
“Every year, things change a little bit, where we either get a new site [or] we lose a site,” Brother Michael Flanigan, a campus minister at Marist, said. However, this year not only did they add a few volunteer sites, but a few existing ones changed their location. “So the glitch this past week was what might have worked in the past, didn’t work now.”
Campus Ministry’s weekly community service program started, for the Fall 2017 semester, last week. The program involves students taking two hours a week and going to a service site, or driving students in a van to various sites.
The service sites are usually pretty close to Marist – Brother Michael allots 15 minutes to get to each one – but with some of them recently changing their locations, those sites are now a half hour away. While Campus Ministry provides transportation to and from the service sites (thanks to the van drivers), they only have two vans.
Additionally, this semester there are 52 two-hour shifts (at 18 service sites) over the course of the week, so that’s a lot of driving students back and forth from the service site and Marist. So, while on some days the van driver has time to spare between trips, there are other days where they are driving students around non-stop.
Even though there are a total of 308 students – 27 van drivers and 281 site volunteers – doing weekly service this semester, the number of volunteers is a little low. According to Brother Michael (who runs the weekly community service program), for the past five to 10 years, the fall semester usually has somewhere between 330 and 350 volunteers.
Furthermore, Brother Michael said that usually there are 20 to 30 people who sign up, but never show up or notify him. If a student fails to come to volunteering for the first two weeks – and, more importantly, neglects to notify Brother Michael that they will be missing community service on those days – they will be removed from the list and a student on the waitlist will take their place.
“I still do not understand the mentality of people who signed up for community service and don’t show up.” Brother Michael said. However, if a student emails him saying that they realized they can’t do community service, or that they changed their mind and aren’t going to do it anymore, that’s a different story – he understands those.
“What gets me angry is people who sign up and don’t ever show up [and] don’t say that they’re not coming,” Brother Michael said. “Marist has such a good reputation, because of you people who do the service, that to have people sign up and not show up – it’s just so irresponsible.”
However, this program has been going strong for at least the last 25 years. After the previous woman who was in charge of weekly service left, Brother Michael took charge of it, partly to encourage more guys to do weekly community service. He said that plenty of girls participate, but they also need guys to step up.
“I wish I could impress upon people how much of an impact guys have, especially on young boys,” Brother Michael said. The thought was that “[m]aybe seeing a man in charge of the community service project might get more men involved.” Interestingly, they have seen more guys do weekly community service, but don’t know if they can attribute it to the fact that Brother Michael is running it.
They are also actively pushing for guys to help out, which, according to Brother Michael, was never done before. “Maybe that push and maybe that push coming from a man [helps],” Brother Michael said.
For this semester, he estimates that there are about 40 guys helping out at the actual sites, but 60 total – because most of the van drivers are guys. Of the 27 van drivers, 19 are male and eight are female.
He mentioned in the first monthly Campus Ministry meeting when asking for people to step up and become van drivers, that without the drivers, the other volunteers don’t get to their service sites.
“My favorite part [of the first week] has been being in the van with the students who are going out van driving,” Brother Michael said. “Their names are on a list to me, so getting to actually see these people and…meet them is a real thrill for me, because I’m meeting the people who are making this happen.”
Brother Michael said that Campus Ministry does volunteering for religious and humanitarian reasons. “In the major writings of all the sacred scriptures of all the major religions, God is asking us…[to] love your God and serve one another,” Brother Michael said. “We’re serving from a perspective of religion, but we also believe it’s very much a part of Marist education [to]…serve one another and help your neighbor.”
His favorite thing about Marist students is their generosity, noting that service like this embodies the spirit of Marist. “[P]eople will go out, give up two hours of their time and have fun doing [service],” Brother Michael said. “That, to me, speaks a tremendous amount about the generosity of Marist College students…That’s the Marist spirit. The Marist Brothers want people to give of themselves to be of service, to be people who would give to other people…So to see it working out so well and still being so prominent, is really an impressive thing.”
He added that student volunteers play an important role in connecting with the Poughkeepsie area. “You are the face of Marist in the Poughkeepsie community,” Brother Michael said. “Marist enjoys a very good reputation. Why? Because of you people – you’re the face of Marist in the community…You don’t realize how much of an impact you have on the community and on these people that you serve.”