By Emily Claps, Computer Science and Theology Major, University of Notre Dame
Every summer, hundreds of Notre Dame undergraduate students are assigned to various volunteer sites across the country through the Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP), each site with one or two students giving of themselves and serving for eight weeks.
Little, indecisive me, applied to this program on a whim. Little did I know what I was getting myself into or the depth of the transformation my heart would undergo. It’s hard to believe that just last summer I was both working and living on-site at Hesed House with my site partner and fellow Notre Dame classmate, Haley Hoyle. It was the summer that completely changed my life and opened my eyes to the infinite potential of every human being – including myself.
I loved the initial awkwardness of small talk in my determined efforts to get to know the guests. I loved sitting down with a complete stranger, and striking up a conversation that always unfolded in surprising and wonderful ways. I loved handing out soap and shampoo to the guests, relishing the opportunity of drawing the smile out of them and seeing the spark in their eyes. I loved movie nights in TLC with the little ones. I loved watching them run up before dinner and hearing them pray with the words “by His hands we all are fed” while holding each other’s hands. I loved getting up at 4 a.m. to help crack hundreds of eggs and toast multiple loaves of bread to greet the guests with a smile and help them start their day out right. I loved playing basketball with the maintenance team in PADS and hearing their teasing criticisms of my driving abilities on the golf cart while sorting donations. I loved the oft-heard question of “What are you doing here?” because I could answer with my actions. But what I loved most of all was the gradual realization that it takes so little to be happy and to share that pure joy with others.
It was in the simplicity of these moments that I constantly caught a hint of something…the understanding of which stirred my emotions, set my mind running in deep thought, and set my heart on fire. I came to recognize this ‘something’ as Hesed: compassionate, merciful love – the kind in which you make the conscious decision to identify with others’ suffering and bring love to the table – the kind that is vulnerable and free from the toxicity of fear and expectation. How beautiful that this simple magic can be found anywhere and everywhere, so long as you have the willing and open heart to seek it out.
Words cannot express how much my heart longs to re-live my short eight weeks at Hesed House, but I know that part of the experience is having the strength and courage to carry what I learned with me – wherever life takes me – to inspire others in the same way that the people there inspired me. Now a lover of travel, conversation, and adventure, I seek out experiences that instill in me the rare and precious combination of confidence and humility, which is exactly what Hesed did for me. Although many of the countless words spoken in my conversations there may be forgotten, I will never, ever forget how Hesed made me feel.
To all those who I met at or through Hesed House, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you’ve taught me; know that no matter how brief a time our paths may have crossed or where you or I go, I love you and will never forget the ways in which you’ve lit up my soul and changed my life. May God bless each of you in all that you are and all that you do.
Notre Dame SSLP interns Haley (left) and Emily holding
TLC residents Matthew and Vanessa.
Notre Dame SSLP intern, Emily (right) with TLC resident Kwade.
Notre Dame SSLP interns Haley (left) and Emily with TLC
residents (from left to right) Matthew, River and Ruthlyss.