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Two Stuart eighth grade students share reflections on Sacred Heart Network summer service program

Two Stuart eighth grade students share reflections on Sacred Heart Network summer service program

As a member of the Network of Sacred Heart Schools, we are part of something bigger. 

This summer, current eighth graders Alexandra and Sophie had an opportunity to join students from other Sacred Heart schools in the United States for a summer service experience at Sacred Heart Chicago. Summer service opportunities through the Network have been operating for over 30 years to provide students with "immersive learning experiences that promote the inherent dignity of all humans and deepen students' understanding of service to others." This year, just over 180 students from 18 schools applied and 114 students participated. Below, Alexandra and Sophie shared a reflection about the experience. 

Alexandra: In late July, I traveled to Chicago with nine other Sacred Heart students to embark on a week-long experience filled with service projects and learning opportunities to help us better understand the importance of food and climate in and around the Chicago area. 

In certain areas of the Chicago suburbs and many places across the country, food is not easily accessible, and residents may resort to convenience stores that contain no fresh produce. This is why organizations like Precious Blood and Farm on Ogden have created urban gardens that allow people to access fresh produce on a daily basis without traveling far from their homes. At one farm, our group picked vegetables, watered plants, and weeded gardens. To deepen our education on greenhouse gardens, we visited Loyola University to learn about aquaponic systems, a system where the waste of fish is used for fertilizer to grow plants. Aquaponics are energy efficient, waste less water, and cost less money. I really enjoyed these hands-on activities because I could learn more about the environment, work with a group of girls very similar to me, and know that I am helping the environment and people in need during the process.

In addition to the environmental experiences, the Sacred Heart students and I volunteered at a local food pantry, and collectively, we and the rest of the Care for Real volunteers served over 1,000 customers that morning. Finally, we volunteered at Cradles to Crayons, an organization that collects gently used clothing and donates it to children in need. The organization quality checks their clothing three times before it is donated to ensure the child receiving it does not experience clothing insecurity. Volunteering at these organizations made me reflect on the five Sacred Heart goals, especially goal three: a social awareness which impels action. It is very eye-opening to see what those less fortunate are experiencing, and it made me feel happy to help.

Overall, the Sacred Heart summer service project was a step out of my comfort zone. It enabled me to be away from home while learning about the significant food and environmental issues affecting our country and seeing firsthand how I could be a part of helping those affected by these problems. I strongly encourage my Sacred Heart peers to take advantage of these opportunities because it was an amazing experience I will never forget.

Sophie: I participated in the Committed to Creation Project in Chicago, IL at Sheridan Road. This trip was a lot of fun and was a very educational experience. The main topic of this program was to learn how food and environmental issues are related and how they can affect each other. We talked about climate change, food scarcity, food deserts, the quality of food, and what is being done to help people affected by these things. I loved that we were really involved in all of the activities; we were very active rather than just learning about what is being done to make a change. We got to sort clothing at Cradles to Crayons, weed at a community garden, help distribute food at a food pantry, and prepare and package meals for Inspiration Cafe. I also liked that we learned about eco-friendly gardening, aquaponics, and hydroponics. We had an information session at Loyola University where we learned about their aquaponics and hydroponic systems, how they grow their own mushrooms, and their outdoor vegetable garden on campus. It was so cool to meet other Sacred Heart girls from schools around the country. I had a lot of fun getting to know the girls from Greenwich, St. Louis, Bloomfield Hills, and Miami. We talked about the differences and similarities between our schools. I learned that out of those schools, Stuart has the best Congé! All of the other schools celebrate Congé on campus, while we get to go somewhere fun. I had a great time in Chicago and definitely recommend this program to other middle schoolers who want to learn more about the environment and our sister schools!