By Lois Rogers | Correspondent
It’s a fall tradition at Georgian Court University, Lakewood, for freshmen to begin their first semester with experiences that underscore the Mercy Core Values of respect, integrity, justice, compassion and service, which is why as the leaves fell around the campus Oct. 14 and 21, some 220 freshmen participated in two mornings of service project opportunities.
For 90 minutes both days, the students – in coordination with the Center for FaithJustice – gave sweat equity a try as they cleaned up the campus and the banks of the surrounding Lake Carasaljo, created packets of arts and crafts for children at the local Head Start Program, worked on projects for senior facilities, and crafted fleece blankets to comfort critters at area animal shelters.
Photo Gallery: FaithJustice, GCU team up for service projects
Some played Bingo with folks from Visitation Homes, Yardville, a Catholic residence for adults with developmental disabilities, who visited for the day. Others wrote letters to military veterans. At neighboring Christ United Methodist Church – located around the corner from the campus – freshmen worked alongside volunteers and the pastor, Rev. Iraida Ruiz de Porras, to bag 200 lunches of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, pretzels and juice for an area soup kitchen. In addition, the students contributed their ideas on a “ladies night out” the church is planning to host early next year for hardworking mothers.
The service project events were part of a two-credit, semester-long course created to help freshmen explore how to be successful at GCU and embrace mercy in their lives.
“The goal is to help them understand the fabric of college life,” said Stephanie Peddicord, president of the Lawrenceville-based Center for FaithJustice, which worked with the university to coordinate the two days of service projects.
Rooted in Catholic tradition, the Center for FaithJustice, founded in 2008, works to foster economic, social and political justice with its programs. To date, it has reached more than 4,000 young people through its service-immersion programs.
The concepts of service and social justice embraced during the course dovetailed so well with the Center for FaithJustice goals that collaboration with the university seemed natural, Peddicord said.
“The center does a lot of service immersion for students, especially middle and high school students, and when we started to talk with Georgian Court’s mission integration program, we recognized that there are points where we can collaborate,” said Peddicord, who noted that conversation is ongoing about how such collaborations can be increased in 2017.
“This is their first introduction,” she said, of “what it means to be a student on a service-oriented campus. It was a good ... first-year experience.”
Dr. Kathleen Froriep, education professor at GCU who helped coordinate the event, shared Peddicord’s enthusiasm about the collaboration. “A lot of effort went into [the two-day] event,” she said.
Such offerings, Froriep said, reflect “a whole new way of thinking about [freshmen] level courses.” The approach is dynamic and offers a global-minded approach, she said. They are a way of reflecting that “in college, you have entered a bigger conversation. For educated adults, the class focuses on seeing their place in the universe through a mercy lens.”
Students on campus Oct. 14 were excited about that opportunity. As they gathered together after completing projects, many said they had learned a lot from the day.
Tyshona Robinson of Trenton said it was meaningful to hear from a representative of Lakewood’s Head Start Program that for some children, the food they get there will be their main meal of the day.
Like Robinson, Lexy Fargas of Waretown appreciated the Head Start presentation. “It was passionate and concerned. It’s easy to tune out [the needs of others],” she said. “This helped you to think of others.”
Clement Rajakumar of Jackson also liked the-hands on approach, which fostered the feeling that “we did it ourselves. I liked the focus on mercy and on helping others.”
Shannon Pustae, a senior from Forked River, was one of the upperclassmen who helped during the event. “Doing service learning helps instill the core values of mercy,” she said. “It helps you to connect to the community. I’m glad to be doing this.”
Briana Sykes of Buena Vista, N.Y., who focused on helping plan events for the community at Christ United Methodist Church, said she’s looking forward to spending more time working on the “ladies night out” event.
“It’s a safe place to come,” she said. “The women can all relax and have no worries. Come Feb. 12, we’ll all be there.”