Nathan Drahms knows a little bit about volunteer work. The 24-year-old took up his new post as campus minister at the University of Rochester’s Catholic Newman Community Aug. 3, just two days after he returned from a yearlong service experience in Syracuse through FrancisCorps, a Franciscan lay volunteer program.
Through this program Drahms worked with refugees resettled by Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Syracuse and volunteered with a tutoring program for second-generation Vietnamese children.
"It was really an incredible experience," Drahms said.
Drahms embarked on his yearlong service experience just two months after finishing his studies at the University of Rochester, where he’d been bitten by the volunteerism bug after participating in an alternative spring break and several other volunteer experiences with the Newman Community.
"My favorite Bible passage is Jesus washing the disciples’ feet," Drahms said. "He called people, his disciples, to humble radical service to one another, and so I wanted to serve the poor and the needy, and I wanted to do it for a chunk of time and give a year of my life to it."
Drahms is not alone in his desire to serve others, say campus ministers, chaplains and Newman Community directors from area colleges and universities.
Students today are very interested in making a difference, and campus volunteer opportunities provide a way to harness students’ enthusiasm and passion while at the same time allowing them to live out their Catholic faith, said Father Brian Cool, director of UR’s Newman Community.
Local communities and college campuses often offer a number of excellent service opportunities, so Mike Sauter, director of Catholic Campus Ministry at SUNY Geneseo, often directs students to these opportunities so as to avoid "reinventing the wheel," he said. When he does plan a service project, he usually develops projects that emphasize Christian reflection, he noted, rather than service simply for the sake of service. Sauter often partners with the Sisters of St. Joseph Volunteer Corps in Rochester to help students learn about Catholic social teaching while working at such places as Bethany House, a Catholic Worker shelter for women and children.
Volunteer work also is popular at St. John Fisher College in Pittsford, where everyone from students to the college president participates, said Basilian Father Joseph Lanzalaco, director of campus ministry.
"Volunteer work here at St. John Fisher College almost defines campus ministry and the school. I think community service is the heart and soul of a Catholic college and any school in the Catholic tradition," Father Lanzalaco said.
Regardless of whether they went to college and what type of school they went to, young adults seem to be more drawn to some types of service than others, noted Margot Van Etten, director of SUNY Brockport’s Newman Community. While young adults are interested in actively helping others, in general they seem to be much less interested in attending meetings, even if the meetings are related to the volunteer activities, she said.
"Overall is seems that college-age young people have a deep interest in direct service with high personal contact," she said.
Stephanie Smolenski, a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, said it was this personal contact that motivated her. She volunteered at a hospital one summer and found she enjoyed listening to elderly patients and being able to bring light into their lives. Since then she’s become involved with a number of volunteer organizations and coordinates the weekend volunteers for the Salvation Army kitchen in Ithaca.
Faith has been a driving force behind her volunteerism, Smolenski said.
"It gives me the strength that I have to get through each day, and the humility to recognize how many gifts I’ve been blessed with," she said. "I have always believed that you never truly understand the value of something until you share it with others, and volunteering is a great way to share your life with others and to grow as a person of faith."