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BGCL Celebrates 10th Anniversary with University of Notre Dame Summer Service Learning Program

July 25, 2016

For six University of Notre Dame students volunteering this summer at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence (BGCL), the eight-week Summer Service Learning Program is an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of urban youth.

For rising junior Vanessa Acosta, it's also a chance to return to her Lawrence roots.

"I spend most of my time at school in Indiana now," said 20-year-old Acosta, who graduated from Central Catholic High School in 2014. "It's good to be home."

This year is the 10th anniversary of the partnership between BGCL and Notre Dame, which operates the Summer Service Learning Program through its Center for Social Concerns. Approximately 230 students are sponsored at 180 partner sites across the country, with the program at BGCL supported by the Notre Dame Alumni Club. In addition to Acosta, the student volunteers are Joe Tenaglia of South Weymouth, Mass.; Steven Forte of Barrington, R.I.; Thomas Matysik of Chicago, Ill.; Monica Schrand of Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Gabrielle Rogoff of Erie, Mich.

BGCL Executive Director Markus Fischer said the program has an enduring history of benefiting both organizations.

"It's a great opportunity for our kids to be exposed to high-level students, and then get to know them as role models," he said. "For the Notre Dame students, working with inner-city youth is a rewarding and often life-changing experience."

Although Acosta is not a BGCL alumna, she became familiar with the club through her classmates at Central Catholic. She volunteered last summer through the Summer Service Learning Program at Lazarus House Ministries in Lawrence, and hasn't been disappointed with her decision to work with children this time.

Each day at the club, the Notre Dame students coordinate morning "high-yield" learning activities, or games designed to prevent summer learning loss by incorporating reading, writing, math, problem-solving, and other skills. In the afternoons, they join staff members in overseeing activities in the gym and dance room, as well as kickball, whiffle ball, and dodge ball games. They also reside together, at the ABC (A Better Chance) House in Andover.

Acosta said she has been particularly impressed with the club kids' teamwork and resourcefulness. While overseeing games of checkers, for example, she noticed how kids who know the game generously instruct beginners at their own expense. In the games room, teams work around missing pieces or equipment by making up their own elaborate rules.

"The Summer Service Learning Program is nationwide, but I thought why volunteer somewhere else when there is so much need where I live. So far, the experience has been very validating - and more emotional than I expected," said Acosta, a psychology major who is researching the non-academic student success model as part of her coursework. "If I leave with even one kid feeling like, ‘Wow, she really cared about me,' then it's easy for that to become, ‘There are a ton of people who care about me.'"

Acosta learned about the Summer Service Learning Program through Andover resident Ted Gorrie, a former BGCL board member and Notre Dame alumnus who was part of the initial team effort to connect the organizations. Since that time, other relationships have blossomed through the initiative as well. For example, 3M Senior Account Representative Bill Conboy - whose daughter MaryKate, a Central Catholic High School alumna who completed her Summer Service Learning Program at BGCL in 2009 - has helped coordinate the 3M Summer Fun Fest at the club for the past four years.

With seven Lawrence students currently attending Notre Dame, including two incoming freshmen, Gorrie hopes even more will give back at BGCL in the future.

"It's a win-win for both sides, with the youth of Lawrence benefiting from the contributions of these bright, engaged students, and the students experiencing the joy of community service at such a meaningful organization," he said. "There is so much promise for the future."


Did You Know?

Over 200 boys and girls participate in arts and crafts activities every week.