Newman, Dodge City Diocese strengthen ties with summer camp focused on service


One goal of the Newman University Strategic Plan 2009-2014 is to build partnerships across the region that strengthen our role as an intellectual, cultural and spiritual center, and benefit our partner organizations as well as the people within them. In recent months the university has begun building these ties with Wichita area businesses, public schools and community colleges, as well as the Wichita and other area dioceses.

One happy result of these efforts came in early summer this year, when nine high school students from the Catholic Diocese of Dodge City visited Newman for a six-day service camp.

The idea for the camp grew out of discussions among Father Robert Schremmer, Vicar of the Dodge City Diocese and NU Board member, several diocesan priests, and Newman President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D. Newman agreed to host the camp and provide housing for the students and any necessary equipment and supplies.

“We’ve been looking for ways to be of service to the Dodge City and Salina dioceses in particular, because they’re primarily rural and we wanted to see what we could offer them,” said Father Joseph Tatro, university chaplain and assistant professor of theology, who served as camp director. “This is also something the sisters have strongly promoted – the Catholic principles of service to others and giving back to the community.”

Themes and reflections
Tatro said each day’s activities revolved around a theme. For example, on “Diversity Awareness” day, students listened to a speaker from Catholic Charities Immigration and Refugee Services, watched a video called “Shadows of Hate,” and did service work at Catholic Charities Adult Day Services and Holy Savior Catholic Church and Academy.

For “Homelessness, Poverty and Hunger Awareness” day, students did service work at the St. Anthony Family Shelter, the Catholic Charities Help Center and the Lord’s Diner, while on “Violence Awareness” day they worked at Stepstone, an organization that provides long-term assistance and housing for victims of domestic violence. To further drive home the themes, Tatro provided statistics on crime, homelessness, poverty and other issues from the students’ hometowns.

Tatro said the daily schedule also included games and other fun activities, as well as Mass, prayers, and a theological reflection period with journaling and small group sharing.

“The spiritual components were very important, including the reflections, where students would think through the day’s activity and write down their thoughts,” he said. “Our attempt was really to educate them on a topic, have them experience it, and then reflect on it. And it worked extremely well.”

To assist the visiting students, who were all females from Great Bend and Hoisington high schools, Tatro enlisted the help of 12 Newman students. Although it wasn’t part of the original plan, he said the experience benefitted the Newman students as much as their high school guests.

“They loved being their mentors and teaching them different things,” Tatro said. “And the high school students loved them. They worked with them, learned from them, played with them, prayed with them. By the end of the week, the high school kids didn’t want to leave their Newman friends. The Newman students really made this camp happen, I didn’t.”

“The bond the girls formed among themselves, and that I formed with them, was just awesome,” said Kaity Leivian, a Newman senior who worked with the high schoolers. “I thought as a camp counselor I would teach them a lot, but they really taught me.”

“It was a very good experience for both counselors and students,” added Newman junior Julie Schmeidler, also a camp counselor. “They had very positive feedback about some of the issues we covered. And the girls were fantastic. It was inspiring for us to see their commitment to helping others.”

Building a community
Tatro said the week was successful on other levels as well. Officials at the agencies where students performed the service work expressed much gratitude, he said. In addition, several of the Great Bend and Hoisington students said they would come to Newman when it was time for college.

“This is a really good way to introduce Newman to high school students,” he said. “It’s smart to be doing summer programming like this, and
I think we have the ability to do it in many other ways.”

Tatro said the camp will become an annual event, and he and Dodge City Diocese officials hope to bring 30 students to Newman next year. If things go anything like they did this summer, Tatro feels certain everyone will gain from the experience.

“The greatest gift for me was the change I saw in Newman students,” he said. “By the end of the week they were personally invested in those high school kids. Building those kind of relationships is what really strengthens a community.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,